Friday, January 07, 2011

A black and white argument

click photo to enlarge
I've often thought that black and white photography is to colour photography as drawing, ink wash, etching etc is to painting. Not so much in the sense that it is inferior (as some believe), but because in printed form it pre-dates colour. Today, now that colour photography is widespread,  black and white continues only where lower cost or "artistic" reasons demand it. In the field of art photography, of course, black and white is a conscious choice, frequently the preferred medium of a practitioner, and is usually printed to the very highest standards. However, the man in the street frequently sees it as a lesser medium, a fragment of reality from which something has been deliberately witheld.

It's not my place to convince anyone of the fine qualities that black and white photography offers, though if I were to do so I'd begin, not with examples of noted practitioners such as Bill Brandt or Alfred Steiglitz, but with the work of John Bryan and Wilfred Shingleton. Most photographers are perhaps scratching their heads at these names: cinematographers are more likely to have heard of them. Bryan and Shingleton won the 1947 Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Art Direction - Set Direction, Black and White, for their masterful work on the 1946 film of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations directed by David Lean. I watched this film (for the third or fourth time) over the Christmas period, and as I did so I marvelled again at the striking use of monochrome; at the drama, beauty, style and atmosphere that it brought to the production. As an opening argument for the virtues of monochrome photography it is hard to beat. It is also the best film version of this dark tale. If you haven't seen it then do so!

Over the past few weeks I've slipped into black and white a little more than usual. I've always liked the medium, have processed my own prints from film, and continued using it in the years when colour printing gained the ascendancy in the UK. Winter has always seemed to me to be a good time for black and white images. Today's photograph of an Ipswich registered fishing boat near the quayside at King's Lynn, Norfolk, cried out for the treatment because of how it made so much more of the boat's silhouette against the light expanse of water and sky.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 45mm
F No: 6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/160
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On