Black and White; So Wrong It’s Right

I don’t know if it’s the font or straight-up info fatigue, but I couldn’t make it through Charlotte Cotton’s “New Color” piece, though parts of it piqued me and I was glad to see Tacita Dean getting props. (Best Show Ever: Tate Britain, 2001. Who stole my copy of FLOH, anyhow?)

Because “blogger” rhymes with “irresponsible”, I have an opinion formed from little experience and zero authority but I can at least try and make it web-readable.

Color Black and White
Did Ziggy Really Play Guitar? vs. Iggy

Most tussles over the merits of color vs. black and white photography end-up in a thrash about business, the market, & the hole-y history of photography, but it’s all a knife-flashing grudge match from which neither colorspace can emerge unbloodied.

Worse, it’s all too similar to the great ‘free verse’ vs. ‘formal’ dustup of 1915-200x in poetry rodeos.

What interests me are the decisions photographers make, and frankly, I don’t think most make a decision about color vs. black and white. The decision’s been made for them by the market. If you want to be successful (in journalism, documentary, or art photography) you really should shoot color. Really!

A few years ago, Lauren Greenfield asked me why a particular photo of mine was black and white, and I was too flummoxed to admit that shooting color film seemed expensive. I was beginning to make the switch from digital-to-film, and didn’t know any better. In a pinch, I’d used my faulty excuse for not photographing from 1987 to ’99: “photography’s too expensive”. It still is, but enough about that. (For now.)

Cat Show (2)

Black and white may be increasingly culturally irrelevant, and if I were more saavy, I’d give a cr*p. Color may be the modern world’s wavelength, but sometimes the modern world is hell-on-the-eyes, and it helps to switch things up, if only to see what happens. Just this morning, I read another example of a photographer who started shooting color after meeting Martin Parr. Does Parr work for Fuji, AGFA, or Herbalife? (Heck, I guess the reverse happened with everyone who met Robert Frank in the late 50s.)

I occasionally shoot black and white because:

  • I have a kitchen sink and know how to use it
  • I spend more time looking at the fine-grained black and white prints I’ve made in a darkroom than I spend looking at my color lightjets
  • I can shoot, develop and scan in one pretty leisurely day, so long as I’m wearing a cape
  • I’d rather practice photographic craft away from the computer
  • For the laffs when yet another film-mimicking pshop plug-in is released
  • Learning new workflow tricks in Adobe Camera Raw cannot compete with unspooling a reel from the Photoflo and getting a glimpse of what’s there, transparent in the kitchen light

And sometimes what’s new looks too new.

Most of all, I shoot black-and-white for not-so-sexy reasons like increasing subject isolation, reflectivity, flexibility, dynamic range, just because, and because developing my own film reminds me of sparging sweet wort from the mash tun. And its fun. Honestly, every now and then, $s play a part.

But really, if the chips were down, wouldn’t you want Iggy to have your back?

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