I love black and white or monochrome photography and it's a love that seems to be shared by a lot of people. When I talk about my work to clients or prospective clients and explain that I use a lot of monochrome images 99% of them reply with "I Love Black and White Photographs". What fascinates me is why? Especially when we are surrounded by colour images on TV, Facebook etc. People with smart phones are taking photographs and posting them on twitter, Facebook, emails. Colour surrounds us. So what is behind this love of Black and White photography? I have a few thoughts which I'd like to share with you and I would be interested in your views too.
Confusion of Colour
Both of these images are simple. The shot of Olivia (right) is about her eyes, there are no wrinkles to be highlighted, she is after all only a young woman in her teens, and for me it doesn’t matter that we can’t see the colour of her eyes it is enough that they engage with the viewer. The image of the mother and son is a candid image, a mother showing her son the image on the back of a camera. Would colour have added to this scene? I don’t think so, it’s about the closeness between mother and child not the colour of the dress she was wearing.
So what is being shown in these two images, after all they are recordings of an event and are pretty much straight out of the camera (apart from the conversion to B&W). But these aren't just recordings they are an attempt by the photographer (me in these cases) to show the viewer something underneath the colour, to highlight the part of the story I'm trying to tell.
“A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth. ”
― Richard Avedon
― Richard Avedon
One of my favourite comments about colour and black and white images is to consider a red carnation. In colour we see and can rejoice in the redness of the flower but in Black and White we can see the details of the petals that go to make up the head of the carnation .
Apply this view to ordinary portraits and we can see that a good Portrait doesn't need to be in colour it just needs to tell the story of the sitter in that one moment in time. I would love to have shot the following images but I didn't. They were shot by what I consider to be one of the best, if not the best, portrait photographer that ever lived. His name is Yousuf Karsh and you may be familiar with his work without knowing his name.
The first image is a picture of Winston Churchill. No colour, but we see the man, the leader that inspired a nation not the colour of the wall behind him. The second is what I consider to be the best portrait ever taken. It’s a simple shot of Audrey Hepburn. the woman is beautiful anyway but in this shot the simplicity of it all, the lack of colour but a peek at the underlying simple beauty of this famous actress.
Check out a site devoted to his work at www.karsh.org
Later on I will look at two other aspects of Black and White Photography in terms of Realism vs Expressionism and the Sense of Authority.
Have a great week and don't forget that the Erewash Open is still being displayed in the Main Gallery and keep your eye on the website and our Facebook page about some exciting news about an upcoming exhibition.