So, IS black & white photography on its way out?

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by erik_asgeirsson, Jan 15, 2001.

  1. This was recently posted on the rec.photo.darkroom newsgroup. It met with very enthusiastic response there, so with the author's permission, I would like to repost it to the forum here.

    <p>

    From what I've read here recently, it seems that a lot of photographic companies have drastically reduced their commitment to black & white products. Most photography is done in color, and black & white has survived mainly as an art medium. It looks like black & white photography as it exists right now might disappear altogether as companies decide that it is no longer cost-efficient to produce products for black & white photographers.

    <p>


    I would like to start a discussion about this topic to find out what other people's take on this issue is. Do you think that black & white photography is going to disappear? If so, why, and if not, why not? If it does disappear, what will be the alternatives for people who still want to shoot in black & white?

    <p>


    -- Scott Daniel Ullman

    <p>


    sdullman@i_hate_spam.stanford.ude

    <p>


    (Remove "i_hate_spam" and change "ude" to "edu" to send e-mail.)
     
  2. Erik: I shoot color, so I am not emotionally tied to the issue.

    <p>

    I suspect the answer depends, in large measure, on how much
    photographers are willing to pay for B&W materials. As demand
    shrinks, companies look to the bottom line. They can discontinue
    products, or raise prices.

    <p>

    I suspect Kodak will be under pressure to reduce their product line.
    They always seem willing to kill products... remember dye transfer
    materials?

    <p>

    Overall, expect less selection and higher prices for the forseeable
    future. B&W materials are easier to produce than color, so you might
    see smaller companies expanding into the niche if prices are high
    enough for them to be profitable.

    <p>

    Depending on the march of digital technology, traditional color films
    and papers may not be far behind B&W, however, I would be surprised
    if there were no B&W materials available a decade from now... two
    decades is a different story.
     
  3. I thought they were already gone.
     
  4. B&W will never go away, even in its current form, ever. Even if demand drops and manufacturers cut back, or even eliminate their B&W product lines, there will always be other companies to pick up where they left off and fulfill the needs of photographers. There are many photographers who, like myself, love B&W and every step of the process from loading the film to mounting the print. There are also artists, teachers, photojournalists, etc. who would want to keep B&W alive. There ist still a very strong market for B&W products and I don't see that market changing appreciably in the forseeable future. Sure, some people will switch over to digital, but there are plenty others for whom digital isn't even an option, either due to financial reasons or, like me, would just rather work with traditional materials.
    A lot of people see digital photography as being something to replace both B&W and color film photography. Is digital going to bewhere it's at in ten years? Will the world's left over supply of film be used to pave roads and put at the bottom of gerbil cages? Not likely. The way I see it, digital isn't so much a replacement for film-based processes as it is a supplement to them. Early in the twentieth century when color processes were becoming available, people predicted that within x number of years, B&W would be dead. Who in their right minds would continue to shoot B&W when color was just as readily available? Quite a few people, as it turns out. As we know quite well by now, color wasn't a replacement for B&W, just another option. And that's exactly what I see digital as being- just another option.
    So no, B&W photography will not disappear. Certain things, like the availability of certain products, might change, but I really can't see B&W photography as a whole losing much strength for a heck of a long time. Not if I have anything to do with it, anyway. That's my $.02 for the day....
     
  5. Agree with Dave. The people that are screaming the end of B&W are the
    same bunch that were screaming the world was going to end Jan. 1,
    2000.
     
  6. Companies like Kentmere (www.kentmere.co.uk) are producing more b/w papers then ever before. So the future is still bright for us silver printers.
    Regards,
     
  7. As long as the medium is used with talent and sensitivity and vision,
    there will be a demand for it. bw
     
  8. I went for a "social" dinner with a number of photographers and
    dealers, and a dealer was telling me that they had never sold as much
    fiber based black and white paper as they do now.
    I have been teaching large format photography and in particular
    portrait for 7 years and as surprising as it might sound the interest
    is growing rather than going down.
    All this happens in Holland, but I know that in England things are
    similar if not better, so guys and gals what are we talking about?
     
  9. I wish I was as positive as others here that feel B&W will be around
    for a long time to come. I think that it will be relegated to only
    the "fine art" group of people.

    <p>

    As a member of the Palm Beach Photographic Centre's Board of
    Directors, I can tell you that out darkroom workshops are barely
    hanging on. Our digital workshops on the other hand are booming and
    are booked up pretty quickly. Perhaps people are eager to learn the
    new technology, perhaps digital has a mystique that interests people.
    I don't know, but certainly hope that b+W is around for many many
    more years.

    <p>

    Mike
     
  10. I doubt B&W will die. Color dyes seem essentially unstable, though
    improving. There's always a market for permanent, and so far in
    photography, that seems limited to B&W.

    <p>

    By the way, litho B&W will likely never die as long as things are
    printed, including circuit boards for electronics. There's just no
    sense in using 3 layers when 1 will suffice (and actually perform
    better).

    <p>

    I sense that Ilford is also committed to B&W.
     
  11. I have been fortunate to work with Kodak as an engineering and
    business consultant and we have talked at length over drinks and
    dinners about product lines and the "future". While the sun does not
    rise or set with Kodak as per this particular subject of discussion,
    as one reference point I can tell you that Kodak has every intention
    in recovering the investment from the very successful and popular T-
    Max line as long as possible (with the expeption of the 5x7 line that
    is going to be offered as a special order product). But that fact
    alone will not make a hill of beans about what decisions are made
    down the road. What will matter, IMHO, will be what you see in the
    fashion magazines or on the walls of the corporations and galleries.
    Scanning the magazine racks at the large book stores the last few
    years has made me feel very good about the future of B&W. Most things
    we enjoy in this world have some economic hinge affixed to it.
    Profitability makes the wheels turn and photography is not immune
    from the grip of these forces. Color, as well as digital, makes a
    niche for itself be being attracted to a select mindset of consumer.
    The latest rage of digital will no doubt continue to progress in a
    very positive direction as processing speeds, memory, disk capacities
    and printer technologies advance at light speed. However, I look upon
    digital as a tool that I can elect to take out of or leave in the
    toolbox not as the evil vixen that at times it is made out to be.
    Some of the marketing data I have seen on digital seems to point to
    an incremental revenue stream for a consumer that otherwise may have
    been a roll of film a year user with conventional films. To those of
    you that have a calling to teach photography, all of us owe you a
    sincere thank you. It is partly from an introduction to the art form
    that new consumers of the entire photographic spectrum will find a
    reason to allow us to enjoy the product lines we have currently in
    front of us. I am disappointed that 5x7 is being squeezed, but we
    will persevere in finding the distributor that will have less
    overhead and the balls to step out and offer what the larger
    corporations are not willing to. These entrepreneurial individuals in
    the future that posture themselves to offer us the products and
    services we desire, we need to identify and patronize in a big way.
    In the short term, stay enthused about large format, B&W and
    photography and take some time to share this with others that express
    an interest. It will benefit us all.
     
  12. There are more high quality new parts for Model "A" Fords now than
    there were in 1950.
     
  13. After spending the past 5 hours in the darkroom and winding up with 4
    lovely, glowing, palladium prints my heart is filled with passion and
    a sense of accomplishment. To think that we may lose this would be a
    travesty.

    <p>

    I for one can only hope that we will never be so bold as to think
    that digital imaging can replace an art as lovely ad B&W.
     
  14. Digital Has it`s place (e-mailing a print for approval), but it cannot
    and will not replace silver prints for their graacious beauty ever.
    ?Have you ever eally seen a quality print by Ansel Adams or others
    close handd??? Absolutely gorgeous..B&W is not dead by a long
    shot........:)
     
  15. B&W die? Never.
    Sure corporations may drop product lines, and films may cease to be
    available, but as long as we keep shooting it will never disappear -
    even if I end up painting home-brewed emulsions on plastic sheets!
     
  16. I see B&W having a strong resurgence right now; The big thing being
    B&W portaits. I also see more than one B&W magazine on the newsstands.
    And although it is a C41 process, TCN and XP2 are good sellers.
    Remember that alot of real B&W paper is sold for printing this stuff.
    I also recently have seen a digital camera that shoots in B&W mode as
    well as color, and and seeing much larger foramts being looked at
    again. If anyone ever starts to produce a film in 12" wide rolls for
    self cutting with a devised propriety system, B&W as well as extreme
    LF cameras will take off. Dying? No.
     
  17. Of course B&W is on its way out. So is color film and digital, you,
    me, the earth, and everything else that exists. So the point is not
    to worry about what is inevitable. Enjoy it while it is here.

    <p>

    Jason
     
  18. I think that A.A. really put his finger on it when he commented that
    he could think of many photographs of great consequence (I'm
    paraphrasing) that were printed in black and white, but that he could
    think of none that were printed in color. (Even though, he took some
    excellent color photographs.)

    <p>

    I think that the fundamental way in which black and white can convey
    the essence of an image is here to stay.
     
  19. In Erik's original post, I took the phrase "as it exists right now"
    to be the operative question.

    <p>

    Many of the replies here remind me of comments that my audiophile
    friends were making when CDs were released in the early 1980's. LPs
    and Shure V15-TypeIV cartidges would always be available because
    there would always be a demand for them. Well, new LPs are scarce,
    but Shure still makes a V15 (at least they did a year ago).

    <p>

    Well, desire doesn't equal demand. Economic demand requires not only
    desire, but enough people who are willing to spend enough money to
    make an enterprise profitable. There is clearly enough demand for
    V15s but not for vinyl recordings.

    <p>

    The end of the LP wasn't stopped by a small number of audiophiles who
    proclaimed the better audio quality of analog recordings. But fine
    music didn't disappear either. The end still lives, but the
    technological means to the end, changed.

    <p>

    I would certainly argue that B&W photography will continue to thrive.
    But that doesn't mean it will thrive "as it exists right now". Fiber
    base high-silver papers have no equals right now. But images from
    high resolution digital sensors printed on those papers MAY come to
    equal or exceed the results from traditional film. And inkjet or
    other printers that produce equal or better results MAY be designed.

    <p>

    So enjoy your B&W films and papers. They will probably outlive you
    and they may continue to be the best means to the end, fine B&W
    images. They will become more limited and expensive, but there may be
    enough TRUE DEMAND to keep some in production for decades,
    particularly since they can be manufactured on a small economic
    scale.

    <p>

    But don't ignore the possibility that the technological advances,
    paid for by the masses yearning for 4x6 inch color prints of office
    parties and proms, may ultimatly lead to better means of B&W
    photography than what "exists right now".
     
  20. In my opinion, silver-based, chemically processed imagery is on the
    way out and will be replaced by digital imagery. It's happening
    right now. Someday the traditional black and white processes will be
    considered "alternative processes" limited to the fine art market As
    a long time black and white photographer working in all formats up to
    8 x 10, I hate to see this. Yes, the films and papers available
    today are excellent. But their future availability depends entirely
    on market forces, and I suspect the overall market for these
    materials is diminishing. How many films are available in 5 x 7 and
    how many of those films do you think there will be in 5 years? How
    long do you think it will be before Kodak discontinues Verichrome
    Pan, my favorite 120 film? Do you really think that the fine art
    market alone can sustain the profitability of these and other black
    and white products? Just look at how Kodak's stock has performed
    over the last few years. I am familiar with one major workshop
    program, and I know that in the last few years many of their photo
    workshops have had to be cancelled for lack of people signing up. I
    don't think they've had the same problem with their digital program.
    So this is probably what we have to look forward to.
     
  21. Not only am I a photographer, I am also a purchaser of fine art
    prints made by others. I don't display disks on my wall, nor
    monitors, nor drives, nor any of that stuff. I display Black and
    White silver based prints. Quite frankly, I don't care what they are
    made of so long as the quality is as good as silver based prints, and
    I have yet to see anything equal that quality (in my very humble
    opinion). When I go to Museums of Art to look at their photographic
    displays, they are almost always all black and white silver based.
    When you look at what sells in the fine art world (auctions) it is
    black and white. Long live silver based black and
    white !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Kevin
     
  22. Glen Kroger's reference to the fate of the LP in the face of digital
    technology makes a good case for the continued availability of B&W
    materials. Nearly 20 years ago the major record manufacturers
    announced that CDs were "perfect sound forever" and they pushed the
    market hard toward the CD even ahead of consumer demand.
    (Manufactures of cameras and materials have been nowhere near as
    aggressive about forcing consumers to digital photography.) In the
    vacuum left by the major manufacturers' neglect, there has sprung up
    a thriving, although niche, market for LPs and LP playback
    equipment. In fact, years after the LP was declared dead, small
    audiophile manufacturers continue to design ever more expensive
    turntables and cartridges and small record companies continue to turn
    out LPs of old and new music. I expect that if major manufacturers
    abandon the B&W market the same thing will happen in photography.

    <p>

    Another example that should encourage optimism is the recent
    flowering of interest in alternative photography which has made
    readily available some processes that were virtually dead for half a
    century.

    <p>

    B&W may become even more of a niche market than it is now, but I am
    confident it will be around for a very long time.
     
  23. Hi Erik

    <p>

    I see for the next 30 years no troubles for B/W but for a longer look
    forward I don`t know!
    There is a totaly fantastic new B/W Film Comp. in Germany with a new B/
    W Film with a resolution of 900 p. lines per mm.
    I`m not working for this company. You should have a look on thad
    homepage at: gigabitfilm.de
    It will change your work in B/W!
     
  24. Kodak has already killed High Speed Infrared due to lack of interest.
     
  25. To Me Black And White Will Allways Make Me Stair , In Wonder
    At The Beauty Of A Large Print. It To Me Is Like An Artists Painting
    No Color Involved Just The Shades And Contrasts. Involving Features
    Just Seem To Draw You In To The Subject, Simple Yet Complex.
    Will Black And White Die?
    Only If We Let It, And We Allow It To.
     

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