In the beginning of this year (2017), I made a vow of sorts to myself that I would focus on black and white photography. I would learn to see the world in shades of gray, focusing on the light and texture of a scene rather than the color. So far, it has been a wonderful journey with plenty of opportunities to learn having been presented to me. Even though this year has been good to me in terms of photography, I often come across times where I wonder if I should simply shoot color, converting to black and white only if color does not work, as many other photographers do. Deep down in a dark little crevice of my mind, I have hidden these thoughts, forcing them to stay away from me. For as easy as it would be to shoot exactly what is seen by the rest of the world – as true to nature as I could stay – I would lose sight of myself. If I were to shoot color, I would no longer be true to myself. And being true to yourself is worth more to me than anything else in the world. Okay, so maybe it isn’t worth more than family but in terms of intangible things, I would say it is worth the most to me. Hopefully that’s clear.
People are currently obsessed with filters from companies like VSCO and Instagram, plastering a ton of colors and special effects onto their selfies and pictures of food (do people still do that for fun?) before finally posting them to social media. Even photographers are doing this in hopes that their images will turn out looking closer to film than the digital images that they are. I hate to break it to you all but digital files will never look like film just as film will never look like digital. Nonetheless people persist on trying everything that they can in hopes that something will magically change, that the gods of photography will bless them with the perfect image. Again, it will never happen.
But if you look back at photographs from the 1900s and before, back when color film photography was not nearly as popular, they still look like images that could have been taken a few days ago. There is nothing to tell you when the image was taken nor what the photographer did to make it look the way it does. We can look back at the pictures taken by Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon, etc. and easily recreate them. Well, maybe not with the same exact results or the same level of mastery, but you get my point. Shooting in shades of gray will always be shooting in shades of gray. It will never change, unlike the fads often associated with color photography.
When viewing a photograph online, the first thing I notice is whether or not it was taken in color. That should be obvious as it is something we all do without thinking about it. But there are many times when I am viewing an image and get so caught up in the highly saturated colors that I completely miss what the photograph truly portrays. My eyes fly by the subject matter, my mind and heart not making a connection to the story, to what the photography wanted to show. For there are many times when a photography takes a photograph for a certain reason. Speaking from a landscape photography perspective, a photograph is made, not taken, and while this can be debated, the amount of time spent not only in the field but before and after going out cannot. So when a photographer posts an image online that contains these beautiful colors and maybe even a beautiful subject to match, the actual meaning of the photograph is missed.
To me, stripping an image of color allows for its true identity to be revealed. The meaning, the emotion, the time spent on it – all of it is portrayed much nicer. Of course, this is just my opinion, just like everything else I put on here is. But when the viewer is faced with a monochromatic photograph, they have no choice but to look at the subject and soak in the story behind it. They have no pretty colors to distract them.
With black and white photography, there is a sense of timelessness and a lack of distractions in the form of color. The emotions felt when taking an image also seem to be heightened as the true, gritty nature of the subject is shown to the world. A flower has no color to mask itself behind and a person has no beautiful red dress to distract the viewer behind. If an image is created in black and white, the entire scene needs to be perfect in the photographer’s eyes for it to work. There must be emotions shown in the way the landscape forms, the way the subject looks up at you with soft eyes. Heaven forbid those emotions are not laid out just right, if the moment is missed by just a fraction of a second, the photograph will be completely different from what was intended. The entire story can change.
Through my eyes, I strip the color from an image and reveal to the world what is often left unseen. I show the world the hidden textures and emotions buried beneath the cloak that is color. Within seconds of coming upon a scene, I know whether or not it will work, whether or not the emotions are there just yet. And if they happen to be, it will turn into a timeless piece of art.