Friday, July 29, 2011

The case for B&W

This has been bothering me for some time now : A way to define formally and based on physics the case for B&W vs color photography - what, when, and why. In other words, a framework to explain and justify what frames should be B&W and what color, even before same are taken..

Now you can call me mad and close this tab, or continue reading ..

Not without considering a study into the "color psychic" and its relevance to this subject, i started looking “deeper” in the  recent months into the work of selected contemporary photographers. With my “what if” hat on, i was getting thinking and  analytical - dissecting the reasons of why i liked so much what i was looking at and why it was shot the way it was ..

Until last night, in the middle of a very windy night  - it all hit me - it was all about the time of day and it’s light and not about the gear or the particular processing technique ! So i got up in bed, opened Keynote (what else is there!) and developed this idea in a simple graph  :

I can also call this idea the destruction of the postcard photography or something .. It wont be inappropriate i guess. For some unknown reason i get a slight eye fatigue very quickly when looking at perfect summer images with skies, greens and all, which is quite opposite with B&W images of the same subject - they stick in my mind and i want to go back to them later. It could be something to do with the fact that i cannot tolerate too much and too bright colors very well - i think, or the old suggestion that color obscures an image's emotion :

When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in B&W, you photograph their souls! 
- Ted Grant 

Maybe such relevance can be found in the work of the “worshipers of the Sun”, the great Yes band - they did not call one of their finest work - Heart of the Sunlight, but rather “Heart of the Sunrise” ;-) And for this matter - everywhere else where “bright light” is concerned : can you think of any art - poetry, fiction, music, even film, etc - which is created (centered) around the midday sun ? There will certainly be cases but such will be a tiny number compared to everything else .. One comes to mind, but even there, the sun is portrayed as unwelcome and later - as going down creating long shadows  - the great story from the unforgettable Julio Cortazar, called “End of this Stage” (own translation)

It simply put everything into perspective and naturally explained why photographers like Bill Henson, Gregory Crewdson, Philip-Lorca di Corcia, Troy Paiva and everyone else - shoot color in their photography, why Alexander Gronsky’s scapes are “alive” in color however dead they project themselves to be.. Why David Golblatt’s (and many others) most compelling work is his B&W and not the color images, why B&W portraits tell a story, and the color ones - “tell a studio” .. Why i’ll kill for a copy of Annie Leibowitz’s Phillip, and don’t care much about her group color portraits ..  Why my own daylight images from the sea and the city - look (much) better when converted to B&W ..

So, here is a proposal point of departure :

The brighter the scene (eg sun) and/or the more and brighter the light sources in the frame are, the more a case for B&W !

Without going much further into explanation and specualtion, i leave you here, hopefully thinking and finding value in this short analysis mostly contained in the graph above.

And finally, in order to put my money where my mouth is, and to shoot, or rather - process the negatives accordingly i intend continue my experiments abiding by these 2 key rules :

1. Avoid B&W for very low light (twilight, nightlight) shoots, unless for light source-filled scenes (see graph)

2. Always process bright light images and portraits (first) to B&W, unless subject matter is as outlined in part 2

What about you ?

You can go to part 2 of this article Here ..

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