"Monochrome: Painting in Black and White"

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by Didier Lamy, Nov 8, 2017.

  1. the National Gallery, London 30 October 2017 – 18 February 2018

    They have an excellent catalogue which puts in perspective the choice of many (like me) of B&W photography:

    "Painting ‘without colour’ has long held a fascination for artists and in this striking and original book, the authors explore how and why artists throughout the centuries have chosen to paint in black, white and shades of grey. Sometimes painters used trompe l’oeil monochromatic effects to imitate other media, such as sculpture, printmaking or photography; others have consciously limited their palette as a means of re-focusing the viewer’s attention, while modern and contemporary artists such as Cy Twombly and Gerhard Richter have often found inspiration in pushing black and white to its limits, and in new directions. The authors trace the history of this art form, from the symbolism of sacred images in medieval church ritual to the abstract canvases of the modern era."
    Supriyo likes this.
  2. Thanks, Didier. Very interesting.

    Photography, of course, didn't give folks a choice at the beginning, which is probably why so many still choose to work in black and white today. It's kind of part of photography's fabric.

    Nevertheless, in today's world, it's more and more becoming a choice, which has its own rewards and benefits. I work in both color and black and white and find myself choosing based on a variety of considerations, not all of which are at play in each choice. I think black and white does affect the kind and quality of attention we pay to the content of the image. It's also a gut call for me a lot of the time, where something just feels better to me in black and white than in color or vice versa. I will actually often challenge myself to work in color and do something that creates that same kind of attention-specialness black and white so often has.

    In a strange way, some color work (I'm thinking of Eggleston, for instance) has more of what black and white often offers than some black and white work!
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  3. I took some black and white photos at my extended family's Thanksgiving dinner last year. They indulge my film habit, even if they don't get why I bother with it. My precious teenaged niece had a puzzled expression on her face after getting a turn a taking a few pictures on my rangefinder. "Where do I see the picture?", - she asked. ;)

    But after posting the images on-line a week or so later I got a text from my brother: "Now I get why you do it. I've been looking at them over and over again.".

    I think our brains "skim" color photos because the color makes the objects instantly identifiable. With B&W, you're forced to look a little harder and you see things you might not have otherwise noticed. There's plenty of instances where the color is integral to what you're trying to capture, but many times not, - especially if the subject is people.
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  4. From my experience, (in some situations) I think color photography can be a lot more complex than BW due to the extra dimensions of color. While in BW, it's sufficient to consider distractions in shapes, shades and elements during composing, color poses an extra challenge in the form of distraction. An otherwise well composed scene can be a total disaster due to inharmonious colors in it. I find the color dimension to be a challenge than a flexibility factor. For that reason, I have immense respect for photographers like Eggleston who made color work brilliantly. Its also my general experience that incorporating colors in a photo is more challenging in human environment than in landscapes. Nature more often presents a harmonious color palette in my opinion. For that reason too, Eggleston's work stands out since most of his work is in urban and rural setting. Of course, I don't want to characterize colors as just distractions and an instrument of challenge. Color photography has it's special rewards. In certain scenarios, the moods imparted by colors may not be created using BW alone.
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2017
    DavidTriplett likes this.
  5. Interesting comments, to which I cannot follow up due to my poor command of english.
    One shortcoming of this exhibition is the absence of asian painting. This is disappointing. They seem to have focused on the evolution in time of this form of ascetism, at the expense of its univerality.
  6. BW take you to the essence of the photograph removing colour distractions.

    Colour can also do this on another level but that requires a expertise from the photographer which few can achieve.
  7. We reached a great peak of skill in the period when color was costly, slow film stock, hard to get looking right and even harder to print in magazines. Gregg Toland caught the world in black and white. David Lean did it in B and W and in color. So it is not hard to think in both ways and even master the transition when it came. I go for both. Would Schindlers List have been better in color, doubt it. Was Psycho color version an improvment, doubt it. Would Chinatown have been better or more noir in monochrome, kind of doubt it... How you see is deeper and obviously personal. And related to the subject at hand too, (I would argue that color is hardly a distraction- whatever that means, and will have to be shown that part. Arguable I guess, a case can be made but a thin one in light of current materials and techniques of capture) There is certainly an extra personal factor. What the expectation of viewers, friends and your audience seeks.
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2017
  8. I agree, color is not a distraction. Its an essential element in visual artistry. However colors that don't go well with other colors in the scene can be a distraction to an otherwise well composed image.
    Norma Desmond likes this.
  9. Unless, of course, they go together so badly that it becomes a significant statement in itself! :)

    Supriyo likes this.
  10. Ha ha :), that was a good example of colors that work well, while being dangerously close to disaster in my opinion. Here, colors are in harmony with the flashy, expressive face. Basically, the colors enhance rather than distract from the dramatic gaudiness. Thats enticing, at the same time repelling to the viewers, whose common expression to that dilemma would be a comical 'OMG!'

    p.s. I like the makeup melting down her neck.
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2017
  11. Good point. I really like some of the aesthetics associated with Sumi-e painting, and they relate closely to related Japanese aesthetics, such as Wabi-Sabi, etc. To quote one description:
    "Sumi-e's earliest practitioners were highly disciplined monks trained in the art of concentration, clarity, and simplicity." (HERE)
    The qualities can apply equally to photography, particularly in B&W, where discipline and simplicity become enormous components of the final product.

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