The Power Of B&W
I grew up in a black-and-white photographic world. Sure there was color and plenty of it, but what attracted my eye were the black-and-white pictorials in Life magazine, black-and-white movies like The Third Man and the film noir B-flicks, and the amazing work that came out of the FSA and that of Weston, Evans, and Siskind. When I began photography “seriously” I couldn’t imagine shooting in color, except for the rent-paying jobs, or not being the one who processed and printed my own work.
When digital came along I despaired for black and white, seeing that all digital images are in color, that “conversion” to black and white was cumbersome and ignored by programmers, and most of all that the printers put out weak and fragile monochrome images that were very poor imitations of what you could produce in the darkroom. Needless to say that has all changed and now it seems like every new printer above home office variety has more than just one black ink, with many having three or four “grays,” and that paper makers are coating stock that seems primarily suited for black-and-white printing output.
Software companies have also become suitors of black-and-white photographers, and when Adobe finally recognized that folks love black and white, with their Black and White Adjustment Layer that replaced the cumbersome Channel Mixer route, and when companies like Alien Skin, Nik, and onOne came with amazing presets and mixing algorithms for monochrome fans, the return of black and white as a photographic medium was in full swing. In fact, for those who love it, it never went away. It just became easier to do right, and easier to walk away from the chemical darkroom to continue to do the work.
In this issue we pay homage to the power of the black-and-white medium by sharing work from photographers who have chosen this medium for their expressions and who, I believe, recognize that there is something inherent in black and white that cuts through some of the charm of color to show us life on a more primal level. Yes, a great image is a great image, but I can’t help but think that there is something inherently “photographic” to a black-and-white image and that there is something in the interpretive qualities of black and white that lends more emotional content to its viewing.
This is not to put color down or to say that it is somehow less photographic. And clearly there are
some images that would make absolutely no sense in black and white, at least when put against its color counterpart. All I can say is that if you haven’t tried working in black and white to give it a whirl, and take the time to appreciate the huge archive of wonderful black-and-white work done in photography in the past. That might just open your eyes to the amazing power of black and white and change the way you see and work.
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