Why Black & White

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by PhotoBob, May 19, 2010.

  1. PhotoBob

    PhotoBob Subscriber

    Messages:
    535
    Joined:
    Feb 16, 2006
    Location:
    Victoria, BC
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Just wondering what people's thoughts are on why they practice photography in black & white.

    What is the attraction or impetus to photograph in black & white?
     
  2. Chazzy

    Chazzy Member

    Messages:
    2,951
    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2004
    Location:
    South Bend,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Black and white is for fine art. Color is for family snapshots and calendar art. :smile:

    Actually I take my family snapshots in black and white too. Call it the force of tradition.
     
  3. bsdunek

    bsdunek Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,309
    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2006
    Location:
    Michigan
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Because I like it! It reduces the confusion to more basic shapes, forms and tones. It can be beautiful.
    There are artists that make very beautiful pictures with charcoal, pencil, pen & ink, etc. This is in the same vein.
     
  4. fschifano

    fschifano Member

    Messages:
    3,216
    Joined:
    May 12, 2003
    Location:
    Valley Strea
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Because I like it better than color.
     
  5. darkosaric

    darkosaric Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,862
    Joined:
    Apr 15, 2008
    Location:
    Hamburg, DE
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I like it more. Somehow it is more natural to me to shoot B&W.
    Question should be: why color :D ?
     
  6. sandermarijn

    sandermarijn Member

    Messages:
    770
    Joined:
    Oct 19, 2005
    Location:
    Leiden, Neth
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Admittedly I would do mostly colour if the processing were as easy. But b&w does have strong added value, too- It can be just beautiful!

    I used to do *some* colour. Nowadays I consider colour an easy vicitim for d1g1t@l.
     
  7. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

    Messages:
    14,950
    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2003
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Because I suck at color... :smile: I find the black and white medium more receptive to processing alteration, where I am more free to shape the results. It's easier to realize what I want to do with what's in front of the lens. Color film and its process is much to strict a regimen for me. I need creative freedom, and only b&w provides it.
    I do use some color, but mostly just to shake it up a little.
     
  8. JCJackson

    JCJackson Member

    Messages:
    51
    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2009
    Location:
    Pittsburgh,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    First love. When I started photographing and messing around in a darkroom about 40 years ago it was black and white. After a lifetime of distractions I've returned.
     
  9. Vaughn

    Vaughn Member

    Messages:
    5,127
    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2006
    Location:
    Humboldt Co.
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    I add a little Burnt Sienna in with my Lampblack -- does that make my carbon prints "color"? :wink: :D

    All seriousness aside, I like the way B&W simplifies.

    Vaughn
     
  10. wfe

    wfe Member

    Messages:
    1,284
    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2003
    Location:
    Coatesville,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Colors can be distracting and take away from the artist’s vision. Black and white with its tonal range and smooth transitions between them really places the emphasis on the subject and composition. Tones and shades of gray are also used to bring out or emphasize certain areas in the image. Without the distractions the viewer is left to really absorb the image and think about what it has to say. The human eye also naturally gravitates to certain colors. Red, for example will always draw the eye to it. My approach is black and white unless the color is an integral part of my vision and what I’m trying to say.
     
  11. climbabout

    climbabout Member

    Messages:
    225
    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2005
    Location:
    Fairfield Co
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Black and white

    In a word - "simplicity".
    The most beautiful things are often the simplest.
    Tim
     
  12. R gould

    R gould Member

    Messages:
    430
    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2010
    Location:
    Jersey Chann
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Because I enjoy black and white, I like the darkroom, I like the variety,I simply enjoy the whole process and if I can get paid for what is the best "Hobby" in the world then so much the better,for me it is a great life,Richard
     
  13. nyoung

    nyoung Member

    Messages:
    371
    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2006
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Because color is somehow "common and ordinary". We see in color all day every day. TV and most movies are in color as are most magazines and newspapers anymore.
    Black and white is transformative. The common and ordinary is transformed in something uncommon and extraordinary when we change it to black and white.
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. Worker 11811

    Worker 11811 Member

    Messages:
    1,629
    Joined:
    Jan 29, 2010
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I'm with sandermarijn. I'd like to do more color photography but, at least for the time being, I can't really do it.

    The thing that I always tell people is that, if you can't do black and white photography well, you will never be good at color.
    Exposure, and contrast/dynamic range are key to producing a great photograph. In order to learn it well, you need to take color out of the equation and just concentrate on light and dark. Once you learn that, and can make a good photo in black and white, then you can move on to color.

    I always like to tell the story about how Alfred Hitchcock used Bosco Chocolate Syrup for fake blood when he made the movie Psycho.
    Because he was shooting in black and white, chocolate looks "exactly" like blood. Plus, it's a lot easier to get actors to cover themselves in chocolate! :wink:
     
  16. hspluta

    hspluta Member

    Messages:
    73
    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2010
    Location:
    Chicago Area
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I second First Love as the main reason. I am another child who grew up in the 60s shooting and developing B&W.

    I also like the abstract quality of B&W as others have mentioned I feel a connection with painters and other artists when I do B&W

    I do admit that when I want color I go d!gital.
     
  17. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

    Messages:
    1,717
    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2003
    Location:
    Denver, Colo
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Because I see in B&W. I notice light, not color. I also love timelessness, a feeling of "anyone at anytime" which works much better in B&W.
     
  18. bowzart

    bowzart Member

    Messages:
    1,219
    Joined:
    May 23, 2008
    Location:
    Anacortes, W
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I'm a very experienced color guy, just because life sent me down that road. I generally prefer black and white for my own work, but not always.

    Color is a perfectly valid medium, just as is painting with colored pigments. If one is to use color in photography, the color really needs to have some function that is truly essential to the particular work, not just an accidental element. I have shot lots of color imagery, when color is what I'm seeing; if color is, so to speak, my "subject".

    To continue the analogy for comparison, black and white is more like drawing. Modernist relic that I am, I see my work as dealing with form, value, mass, line, etc. - basic visual elements used together to produce some sort of statement (the term is necessarily loose in its definition) in visual language.

    Having worked in a number of labs and studios, I've seen some million or so color images. While I sympathize with and understand the idea that color is for snapshots, the mundane, I have to say that if you see work done by a real master of color, like, say, Eggleston, it destroys that argument altogether. Better to say that it is generally USED that way, not that it IS that way. Color is most often used casually for "pictures of things". If someone's medium is color, that's another thing altogether.

    Likewise, if we consider that black and white is inherently transformative, I think we get into similar trouble. Black and white is often used for illustrative purposes. I once printed a lot of bw images of railroad cars for Paccar, a big company that made them. Would I call that transformative? No. It does show the car's form and construction better than it would if the image had a color overlay. So, in this instance, the idea that black and white can simplify is a salient factor. Illustrations of specimens in botany, etc. are very often done in BW both in drawing and photo because they often show information about the subject better than they would if they were done in color.

    But can BW be transformative? Sure. Just take a look at Minor White's work. Can color be transformative? I've seen it, and I've done it.

    I think all the comments so far have truth in them, especially if confined to a particular image or type of image, or someone's personal vision, but if we try to nail it down to just one factor, I don't think it works. No single factor can apply for all possibilities.
     
  19. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

    Messages:
    7,289
    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2009
    Location:
    northern Pa.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Its all about light in its purest form. You are dealing with all colors bundled together or the absense of any color, then manipulating it to form tones, shapes, and textures. Getting others to see your vision without the aid, or distraction of colors is what drives me. I believe there are details that can only be rendered in shades of gray, or be suggested by the starkness of total black or total white. Its also about forcing the mind to see, and have it make the story, without having to be told what it is. There is perfectness in black and white. It is the yin and yang, or good and evil. They balance each other out, a feeling of peace or urgency can be elicited from the same image depending on how the artist uses the light and contrast.
     
  20. JMcLaug351

    JMcLaug351 Member

    Messages:
    79
    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2003
    PhotoBob, I see by the images you have posted here on APUG that you might have been expecting more detailed and thoughtful responses than "because I like it". To tell you the truth so was I.
    Clearly Bowzart's response is one of the best so far. Also "because it's simple" didn't help either.
    After a long time of using black and white film I've been asking myself that same question lately. I'm coming up with a lot of shallow answers myself. I'll keep following this thread and see if I can learn anything.
    JOHN
     
  21. Vincent Brady

    Vincent Brady Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,030
    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2008
    Location:
    Co. Kildare
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I wonder when photography was discovered and its prints were in colour, would we even know about B&W?
     
  22. eddym

    eddym Member

    Messages:
    1,927
    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2006
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Like Cheryl, my photographic vision is in black & white.
     
  23. borek

    borek Member

    Messages:
    28
    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2010
    Location:
    Thunder Bay
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Because B&W photography is MAGIC !!!
    Borek
     
  24. DWThomas

    DWThomas Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,699
    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2006
    Location:
    SE Pennsylva
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I touch on several of the previous posters' ideas. B&W is the first thing I experienced photographically (partly due to my age) and I was processing it myself in the late 1950s. Over the years, I got away from it, but now I'm back, full circle as it were. I do shoot plenty of color too, but mostly the technology that cannot be named in a documentary function. What rekindled my interest in B&W was looking at color pictures I shot at Pompeii in 2005. There is so much texture there -- weathered/eroded stone walls and roads and all sorts of structures that I feel would lend themselves to monochrome, working with the light and emphasizing the textures and abstract forms without the distraction of color. (Don't know if I'll ever get back there, but today I'm better prepared, just in case. :D)
     
  25. jovo

    jovo Membership Council

    Messages:
    4,124
    Joined:
    Feb 8, 2004
    Location:
    Jacksonville
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Color is too literal. As gorgeous as some color work can be, if it's a landscape sort of image, it just never, ever stays with me. I now tone nearly all my work in thiocarbamide and selenium, so there's warm "color" aplenty, but it's monochromatic, and that's the issue. There are very, very few color images made in a "fine art" sense, that have the resonance that monochrome photographs have for me. Besides, as David Vestal wrote: "In black and white, the colors are better!"
     
  26. Emil

    Emil Member

    Messages:
    86
    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2009
    Location:
    Århus, Denma
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Because it's way cheaper! I told a few people that I like to shoot film, and suddenly everyone was giving me free film and paper and cameras. I got enough apx100 and multigrade iv to last me a lifetime.