Spring is on the way and with it is blossoming colour.
Only a week ago the walk from the driveway to my home was frozen with snow still clinging to the rocks that hold the garden back. However, yesterday morning the walk was almost dry with grass beginning to frame the border.
One would think that the talk from photographers stopping by my shop would be about spring colours. Ahh…but there was not even a word about how nice it would be to photograph all that springing colour.
The first phone call of the morning was from a frustrated student that needed to complete an assignment asking me if I sold Ilford black and white film. I don’t.
A bit later a fellow I hadn’t seen for a while stopped to say hello and we talked about shooting infrared. He was hoping I could help him find an infrared camera.
I had just this past week missed out on a good deal on a converted camera, but the spring used camera sale will be at the end of next month in Vancouver and I suggested he join me there.
That conversation continued when he showed me some black and white infrared photographs that he had found online.
Later that afternoon my friend Drew showed up just as another photographer and I were admiring some of the excellent images made by members of a Facebook black and white photography group.
The three of us looked at pictures and talked about B&W until closing time.
One would think with the ease that modern DSLRs make colourful photographs that there would be little serious interest in black and white. After all, to make a good B&W image one should use some kind of editing program that allows adjustment of the different colour tonality.
I am sure the numbers of photographers that actually produce B&W are few compared to colour, but there are many avid groups on Facebook and Flickr that are dedicated to what has become to be called “monochrome” photography.
I pick and choose which of my images gets converted. Sometimes the subject deserves to be shown as B&W. And when I mentioned to my close friend and photo-partner, Jo McAvany that I was going to write about black and white she insisted that I stop by to get a B&W photo of the river she had taken earlier in the day.
I still remember the time when colour was almost non-existent. Once in a while someone would have the money and shoot a roll of colour, but most of the families in the neighbourhood I grew up in only could afford black and white film. Some people didn’t like colour pictures. I remember my aunt critically looking at some pictures at a family gathering that they “just didn’t look natural”. And as I have written before, when I first got into photography I preferred B&W.
I strongly believe a successful black and white photograph depends on its ability to communicate. It doesn’t depend on eye-catching colours for its’ visual presentation. Those B&W images that stand out combine attention to light, shadow, composition and perspective.
Ted Grant, widely regarded as the father of Canadian photojournalism wrote,
“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”
I think that black and white photography is far from being left behind, and in my opinion, with the current processing software, updates in high quality printers, and printing papers black and white image-making will continue to be an option for many serious photographers.