Sunday, January 01, 2012

The resurgence of black and white

click photo to enlarge
It's surely true that the avalanche of colour photography that has swept over us for several decades has made us more receptive to the charms of black and white. A new, French film - "The Artist" - is currently getting rave reviews. Not only is it silent, it's also shot in black and white. Would most people have given it the time of day thirty, forty, fifty years ago? Today it's not unusual to see advertising in newspapers, magazines and on TV, often for higher priced goods and services, that features black and white. Is colour's slip from almost total dominance a case of familiarity breeding contempt? Probably not. I think it's more that the distance between the era of predominantly black and white photography (and film) is now sufficiently great that we can once more appreciate its qualities.

What are those qualities? What makes photographing in black and white (or converting a colour image) a positive step rather than a regression into times past? It has been said that the act of the photographer translating colour into black and white in the mind's eye, of itself, makes the older medium one that is more creative. But there's much more to it than that. Structure, tone and texture are stronger in black and white: colour weakens these qualities. Black and white photography has been described as paraphrasing and formalising to a much greater extent than colour, and that undoubted truth is, for me, at the heart of what makes it attractive. Then there's the fact that black and white often dispenses with the decorative allurement and prettiness that colour frequently confers.

Today's photograph illustrates that last point. The rose that I photographed was pink. In its original form the image is mainly about that deep, showy colour. There's nothing wrong with that; such photographs have their place. But, when converted to black and white, the in-your-face nature of the shot changes dramatically. It becomes more subtle, the accent shifts to the understated shades of grey, to the structure of the bloom. The photograph is now much more of a suggestion than a statement. That kind of transformation is only one of the possible directions in which an image travels when converted to black and white. Sometimes it becomes much more dramatic, other shots acquire a graphic quality, etc. And yes, I think these are qualities that a wider audience is once more coming to appreciate.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 100mm macro
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1.3 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: Off