Why Black and White?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by mfratt, Dec 3, 2010.

  1. mfratt

    mfratt Member

    Messages:
    124
    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2010
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I'm not looking to start a B&W versus Color debate, nor to suggest that one is better than the other, but I'm interested in the philosophy/reasoning behind black and white photography.

    Personally, I do enjoy the aesthetic of black and white for many applications, but I'm curious if anyone has further elaboration or thought behind this aesthetic and why it is so popular and pleasing, especially from those of you who work almost exclusively in black and white.
     
  2. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

    Messages:
    8,004
    Joined:
    Apr 29, 2008
    Location:
    Los Angeles,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I like it for many reasons – some aesthetic/artistic/conceptual, and some technical/practical/economical. I also like color, but almost never for technical/practical/economical reasons. I used to shoot far more color than b/w, but now I do the opposite. The huge cuts in color films, papers, and chemicals really cut into the amount of color I shot.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 3, 2010
  3. xxloverxx

    xxloverxx Member

    Messages:
    156
    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2009
    Location:
    Hong Kong/Pa
    Shooter:
    35mm RF
    Aesthetics and archivability. Also flexibility.
     
  4. coigach

    coigach Member

    Messages:
    1,589
    Joined:
    May 23, 2006
    Location:
    Scotland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    It's the way I 'see' landscapes...
     
  5. sandholm

    sandholm Subscriber

    Messages:
    232
    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2009
    Location:
    Switzerland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Its the way I want to see and feel the world

    (I also do color but that is more from a documentary/"photo journalistic" view)
     
  6. Willie Jan

    Willie Jan Member

    Messages:
    1,932
    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2004
    Location:
    Best/The Net
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    In my case black and white is the only way where the whole process can be controlled by the artist. For color (if you do not print yourself) it's often just not what you want if you get it back.

    Second B/W must be an interesting picture, with color blue sky and yellow corn for example is already great looking, even when the composition is not good.
    So you look harder and learn more.
     
  7. thegman

    thegman Member

    Messages:
    623
    Joined:
    Feb 8, 2010
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    For me, I just think some things look better in B&W. In a very cynical way, it's almost a "cheat" to add mood and grittiness. I very much like colour too though, if I were to go back somewhere like Hawaii, then I'd shoot exclusively Velvia I think.
     
  8. perkeleellinen

    perkeleellinen Member

    Messages:
    2,258
    Joined:
    Apr 14, 2008
    Location:
    Warwickshire
    Shooter:
    35mm
    When I started printing it was obvious that it should be B&W because everybody told me colour was too hard, that was the domain of particularly sadistic home printers. Accepting that as received wisdom I never thought about colour again and if somebody had asked 'why black and white?' my answer would have been what else is there? Now that I know that colour is more or less just as simple as B&W, my decision to use black and white is dictated more by vision and perhaps it's telling that I've only shot about 10 rolls of B&W this year and around 50 rolls of colour.
     
  9. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

    Messages:
    9,079
    Joined:
    May 3, 2006
    Location:
    Ryde, Isle o
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    It's a historical thing really. Black and white is a simpler process than colour and was invented first. If it was colour from the start I don't think anyone would have tried to make a monochrome version. As it does exist, lots of people like it and use it.

    It's a similar story with the design of amplifiers for electric guitars. A lot of compromises were made and the amplifiers were (and still are) far from perfect. If the the early designs were theoretically perfect and more hi-fi, what we think of today as the standard electric guitar sound would not exist. We would have a clinical perfect sound which we can achieve now but do not want.


    Steve.
     
  10. bblhed

    bblhed Member

    Messages:
    601
    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2010
    Location:
    North Americ
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Black and white Negative, and Color reversal (slides) here because I can process and view them at home. I do shoot C-41 color, but I send that out because I just don't want the hassle of bringing yet another process into my home.
     
  11. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

    Messages:
    7,510
    Joined:
    May 18, 2008
    Location:
    Beaverton, OR
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    B&W is many times described as timeless, don't know where the saying came from but here goes. (Paraphrased)

    "When you shoot a B&W portrait you take picture of the person, when you shoot one in color you take a picture of their clothes."
     
  12. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

    Messages:
    18,032
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2004
    Location:
    West Midland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Colour was very finicky and complex when I started, also rather expensive. I cut my teethe with the Pavelle process, which by then was marketed by Paterson, also doing Ferrania reversal processing.

    Black & White was cheap, ex Government/Military surplus materials where readily available and inexpensive so I used films like FP3 and a little HP3 bought in bulk and some early PE (not RC) paper obviously made for fast printing pf aerial work. Many in the UK will remember the suppliers AW Young, Marston & Heard, Harringay Photographic Supplies etc, and 2 modern suppliers have a link back to those days, Martin Reed (Silverprint) used to work for Harringay PS, and Roy of RK Photographics is the son of the owner.

    I shot a lot of colour personal work in the 70's and 80's mainly Fuji E6, I'd been processing E4 until the release of E6 and continued to do so until the late 1980's, at that point I decided to concentrate solely on B&W for my personal work.

    Black and white simplifies, it takes away the mundane colours, aesthetically it's more pleasing as an art medium.

    Ian
     
  13. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Member

    Messages:
    7,114
    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2005
    Location:
    In a darkroo
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I agree with the above. After shooting black and white for a few years now (due mostly to finances) I find that those images are compositionally superior to my earlier color images. Yes, due to experience, no doubt. But that expereince was in learn to see and shape a photograph, not just to record pretty colors.
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. MaximusM3

    MaximusM3 Member

    Messages:
    756
    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Location:
    NY
    Shooter:
    35mm RF
    For me it is very simple...for the most part, I find color to be distracting. It can surely be pleasing in many situations but, overall, and unless it is a very simple, minimalist composition, I almost always feel that it detracts from an image.
     
  16. Bruce Watson

    Bruce Watson Member

    Messages:
    443
    Joined:
    Mar 28, 2005
    Location:
    Central NC
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    +1. Color, for many of my photographs, is distracting.

    In particular, color can be camouflage that inhibits the viewers' ability to see the underlying patterns, textures, and visual rhythms. When you remove color, it's easier to see.

    That said, color has its place. In particular, when the character of a scene is about color itself, B&W won't work well.
     
  17. jacarape

    jacarape Member

    Messages:
    98
    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2008
    Location:
    Virginia
    Shooter:
    35mm RF
    I think the reason may be rooted in the simple concept of biology. We have a vision that does not include color, and that leads us to explore that vision. If we had UV vision, or X-Ray vision we would also image in these realms. Though I have to admit, I did buy a pair of X-Ray glasses out the back of a magazine as a kid, but propriety prevents my from posting those photos. :smile:
     
  18. ehf

    ehf Member

    Messages:
    4
    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2010
    Location:
    Greater Bost
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I've noticed that people sometimes ooh and aah over the color of a photo rather than the subject of it, excepting when the color is the subject, of course. When you take away the color, your subject is, in a manner of speaking, seen in another light.
     
  19. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

    Messages:
    7,470
    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2007
    Location:
    Midwest USA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Its a good artist medium because it is based on simple concepts (like projection of shadows), it is easy and inexpensive and it offers massive control over the representation of the values that were in the scene.

    Color is based on a much more complicated emulsion, is more expensive (especially for large prints) and not as easy to process and the control over values with contrast masking is far from straight forward or easy.
     
  20. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,390
    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2006
    Location:
    Rural NW MO
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    It is impossible for one person to convey to another in words or images exactly what he sees, thinks, and feels. Something is always lost in the effort. This loss can be destructive, or it can be constructive by eliminating nonessential information. Color can be nonessential in expressing what one person thinks and feels about the subject. So are too many words. Consider the Japanese haiku: 17 syllables to convey the soul of feeling. Consider some Picasso and Modigliani drawings: a few lines to suggest the entirety the subject. And so it is with monochrome photography.
     
  21. jeffreyg

    jeffreyg Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,377
    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2008
    Location:
    florida
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    We see in color so printing in B&W or perhaps a better term would be Monochrome Shades imparts something of an obligation for the viewer to look deeper into the image to grasp the photographer's message.

    http://www.jeffreyglasser.com/
     
  22. Jeff Kubach

    Jeff Kubach Member

    Messages:
    6,930
    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2007
    Location:
    Richmond VA.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I just like B&W, nothing more nothing less!

    Jeff
     
  23. Nicholas Lindan

    Nicholas Lindan Advertiser Advertiser

    Messages:
    2,385
    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2006
    Location:
    Cleveland, O
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    1) I live in Cleveland. It's a black & white town. Not much color most of the year, so may as well shoot B&W. And it saves money - Cleveland doesn't have much money.

    2) B&W is meat. Color is spice.

    3) We see form in black and white. Color informs us of the quality of the form.

    4) Black and white removes the distraction of color.

    5) Black and white captures the soul of a person. Color captures the pancake & lipstick.

    OTOH - sometimes I look at B&W and see death. Form without quality.
     
  24. ntenny

    ntenny Member

    Messages:
    2,283
    Joined:
    Mar 5, 2008
    Location:
    San Diego, C
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Very well said. This is one of my strongest reasons too---b&w really encourages attention to things like composition and light, rather than "look, a pretty subject!", which is all too easy to do with colour.

    Also, b&w processing is a nice combination of simplicity and flexibility; easy to do in the home darkroom, suitable for tweaking in all sorts of interesting ways.

    -NT
     
  25. ntenny

    ntenny Member

    Messages:
    2,283
    Joined:
    Mar 5, 2008
    Location:
    San Diego, C
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Don't forget that b&w isn't *entirely* an artificial view---we do have a monochrome component to our vision (the "rods" in the retina, vs. the "cones" which see colour; the rods are more sensitive to low light, which is why you can't see colour well at night), and apparently some people actually dream in black and white, so there is *some* organic precedent.

    -NT
     
  26. Vaughn

    Vaughn Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,301
    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2006
    Location:
    Humboldt Co.
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    With my B&W prints, I hope people ooh and aah over the light of my photos rather than the objects photographed. But as you mentioned, light is usually my subject.

    IMO, many images (B&W or color) fail when the quality of light (rendered in B&W or color) is more or less ignored for the sake of the subject.

    And IMO, good color is as difficult, if not more so, than B&W. One must come to grips with the emotional power of color as well.

    Vaughn