Two Views

Aloe-like plant.

I used to strongly prefer to make black & white photographs. There were several reasons for this.

The first was that, for me, black & white was the native language of the photograph as art. My photographic heroes all shot black & white. The once-removed level of abstraction provided by a monochromatic image could elevate it from mere document to aesthetic object. Qualities of composition and light became more salient.

Secondly, black & white film was more affordable. And in the pre-digital era, that mattered a lot.

Thirdly, you could fairly easily develop and print your own black & white images. Color was a lot more finicky, complicated, and expensive. Very few people developed their own color negatives or transparencies. If you wanted creative control in the portion of the process we now call “post,” you shot black & white.

And finally, often the product of color photography was ugly. Good quality color reproduction was relatively rare and (yes) expensive.

The result of this was that for years, when I held a camera in my hands, I saw the world in black & white. I knew how to look for images that would be effective in black & white; I knew how to think ahead to the development and printing stage and adjust exposure for the effect I wanted. Black & white was the default.

Today, this photograph is a derivative product. I do not go around looking at the world through a mental black & white filter. It is only very rarely that I set out to make a photograph intending for it to be rendered in black & white.

For the most part, I think and compose in color now. Occasionally, when I get back to my digital darkroom, I see that a photograph will work well in black & white. But, with few exceptions, that’s an after-thought.

I’m going to try to remind myself to apply the mental black & white filter when I’m out shooting. There are frames I’m not looking for or capturing because I no longer think that way. Black & white film had its own intrinsic beauties, but digital black & white can be lovely as well and it seems a shame to relegate it to second-class citizenship.

For comparison purposes, here’s the color version of today’s picture. I like it too. Which do you prefer?

Aloe-like plant.

A Year Ago: In An Unusual Light

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3 Responses to Two Views
  1. memphis mojo
    March 30, 2011 | 2:22 pm

    I have to admit I prefer the second one. As Paul Simon said, I love my kodachrome.

  2. Dale
    March 30, 2011 | 6:42 pm

    :-) For me, I like the first a little better. But I like them both a lot. I just think the first brings out the gleaming sharpness of the cactus teeth a little better.

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