Monday, September 7, 2009

Black and White Versus Color Photography

Since this blog has more to do with the aesthetic aspects of photography than the technical, I feel strongly that one of my first post should deal with that age-old issue of color versus black and white in art photography.

Let me say at the beginning, I love all photography; I love great images regardless of the medium. But from the very beginning almost 40 years ago I have preferred to work in black and white and nothing has changed. Clearly, there were a number of reasons for this. When I was in my early teens, long before I became involved in photography, I would spend hours in the library pouring over copies of Life magazine. The images in Life would help transport me all over the world. It was through Life that I realized that life did not start and end in South Los Angeles.

Then, years later, after I got into photography, I had a wife and child and could not afford to have color film processed and printed so I started doing black and white because I could do it myself. Over the years I began to admire the work of Edward Weston and Brett Weston, W. Eugene Smith and above all the technical elegance of Ansel Adams.

I also fell in love with the process. Taking Adams’ lead, I studied the zone system of exposure and internalized the concept of pre-visualization. It was a sense of having total control over the image; a must for any artist.

In addition, from an aesthetic standpoint, when working with color we are more concerned with the fact that the apple is red, the grass is green and the sky is blue. And, unless the medium is in the skilled hands of a master like Joel Meyerowitz, Stephen Shore or William Eggleston, among others, color photographs tend to look like glorified postcards.

In my classes I like to paraphrase Edward Weston who said that to make our photographs interesting, we should photograph things we see everyday, but photograph them in a way that it is though we are seeing them for the first time (Weston experimented with this theory with his now iconic photographs of bananas, sea shells and peppers). Of course this can be accomplished in color by varying lens selection or camera viewpoint, but with black and white, this happens automatically because black and white, is, by it’s very nature, abstract.

Because a black and white photograph is showing us the world in a different way, it is naturally more compelling. Studies have shown that we spend a lot more time looking at a black and white photograph as opposed to a color photograph, (all things being equal) because of the abstract nature of the photograph.

In the next post I want to talk about the future of black and white fine art photography.

Please feel free to post and share your images.

What you see is real but only on the particular level to which you have developed your sense of seeing. You can expand your reality by developing new ways of seeing.

Wynn Bullock