March 29, 2013
My first dozen or so years working in newspaper were spent capturing black and white images; color was a rare thing, not often printed on the web press. That changed within a year of my coming to The Dalles Chronicle in 1997, as digital technology reduced the cost of newspaper color for even the small community press. Today, black and white imagery is the exception rather than the norm. The internet is also a color medium.
There are some pictures that work best in black and white. Sure, they may work in color as well, but in black and white an image sometimes has "that certain something," so important in any creative work.
This photograph of a The Dalles Wahtonka athlete balancing himself for a throw of the shot put is a case in point. The wall, pictured here as a simple black surface, is in color a blazing, distracting red. But take away the color of just the background, and the photograph still lacks something... it works, but it lacks that "certain something" gained when the entire image goes black and white.
Unfortunately, I find myself unable to define what that "something" is. Perhaps the obvious unreality of black and white shifts the subject to another realm of understanding. Color is normal, black and white is not. Or perhaps it is just a change in tonal balance, color or the lack of color leading the eye along different paths of understanding.
Far more photographs work in color than in black and white, and shooting black-and-white film requires a lot more time and a sharp eye for composition and light. To work without color every aspect of the photograph... tone, composition, focus, subject choice... has to be just right.
I've now spent many years working in both color and black and white. Looking back, I'm glad I started in black and white: A great color picture is a real challenge to make, but a great black-and-white photo borders on the miraculous.
The lessons learned creating those black-and-white images inform and expand the color photography I do today.