What color is your black and white? Why?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Julie H, Mar 26, 2017.

  1. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    funny that. i think the photos are so lovely the last thing i want to think about are their origins.
  2. It's not the origin, as much as the whole experience involving the other senses like touch and smell, besides the visual aspect. The photographer is already using a technique that enhances the texture of the paper that he is printing on. He is displaying some of the photos in the book with an illusion of a physical print (Julie's first example). To me it appears, the photographer wants us to feel his work as a physical tangible entity, as opposed to something that exists only in the visual realm (I remember a discussion related to this in the Philosophy forum).

    When I referred to the smell, perhaps I was too narrow for mentioning developing chemicals. It can be any other smell that associates itself with the mood that he is portraying. As an addendum, I really enjoy cooking shows and hibachi grills.
  3. Which is interesting.

    I've noticed that some photographers (and artists in general) are more in touch with the material/craft/process side and others prefer to or simply do experience the results more free from those associations. Interestingly, lots of great painters talked at great length about the material aspects of their art and there never seemed to be a desire to distance themselves from tying aesthetic responses to things like brushstrokes, canvas choice, pigmentation details. I've noticed sensitivity among photographers. My own hypothesis for this is that so much photo talk centers around gear and there's so much vapid argumentation about digital vs. film that the ties between aesthetics and materials/process seem to present a lot of difficulties that don't seem to arise with painters, sculptors, etc.

  4. True. I think it also depends on the type of photo. For Julie's examples, I thought a part of the aesthetic appeal could be imparted by those extra-visual aspects like texture of the print. There are other types of pictures, for which I may consider those aspects less important.

    I agree Fred, about the murky argumentation involving digital vs film. However, for me, the aesthetic appeal not only lies in the knowledge of the process, but in a conglomeration of the extra-visual aspects of the printed photo. The differences between film and digital are confined to the visual realm in my opinion. For example, given today's technology, there is not much procedural or extra-visual difference between a print produced from a film vs a digital source.
  5. I very seldomly tone my images, but if I do, it's usually a warm, dark yellow-brown tone (somewhat darker than sepia), and very little. But in general, when it's digital I use pure b/w conversion, and scans of B&W negatives are stored as single-channel B&W images too. I do however prefer printing papers that tend to a warmer tone, deep blacks, and where the paper is not overly bright white. I do not print vast volumes, but it is my prefered way to present images.

    As for being more in touch with the material/craf/process, I think there is an additional consideration - at least for myself. And that's the physical item - certainly with a good print, part of the joy is having created something physical, which I can hold. Also getting negatives out of the tank, I feel more sense of accomplishment than I do copying files from a memory card. Now, none of this makes the images any better, and none of these needs to interest whoever views the photo, of course. But the overall process of making an image does involve these moments, and for me does play a part into how I feel about my own image (in the same way I do care about cameras because I like using some more than others).

    When I look at works of others, these considerations of skill and craftmanship play a role, and I can certainly admire a well-done print, but somehow it always plays second fiddle to the content of the image. So the aspect of material and craft has more to do with my own joy of working on photos than my view on photos in general, I guess.
  6. [thank you for all of the above ... and please continue if you wish ... I shall add another ingredient for consideration ... ]


    This is James Agee writing about actor/director John Huston. Notice in particular the descriptions of lighting (tone):

    " … Each of Huston's pictures has a visual tone and style of its own, dictated to his camera by the story’s essential content and spirit. In Treasure [of the Sierra Madre] the camera is generally static and at a middle distance from the action (as Huston says, “It’s impersonal, it just looks on and lets them stew in their own juice”); the composition is — superficially — informal, the light cruel and clean, like noon sun on quartz and bone. Most of the action in Key Largo takes place inside a small Florida hotel. The problems are to convey heat, suspense, enclosedness, the illusion of some eighteen hours of continuous action in two hours’ playing time, with only one time lapse. The lighting is stickily fungoid. The camera is sneakily “personal”; working close and in almost continuous motion, it enlarges the ambiguous suspensefulness of almost every human move. In [We Were] Strangers the main pressures are inside a home and beneath it, where conspirators dig a tunnel. Here Huston’s chief keys are lighting contrasts. Underground the players move in and out of shadow like trout; upstairs the light is mainly the luminous pallor of marble without sunlight: a cemetery, a bank interior, a great outdoor staircase."​

    Lighting to content was mentioned by several people at the top of the thread. I think cinematography is a little different in that it goes to the scene before, behind, under, as the water that the content swims in, rather than going to the content itself.
  7. Here's a flyer I'm thinking about:

    One other aspect of tone. It's in the bleed that we see it. By that I mean, the whites and the blacks are not primarily where we see the color/tone: it's in the bleed around objects, particularly the less sharp edges. As a compositor, I spend a lot of my time working with edges and photographic object-edges are very characteristic (and they drive me crazy ... ). Stay with me, I'm getting to a point ...

    At what point does a blank piece of paper become a photograph and how? Where/when does genesis happen to that paper and make it come alive? I think we cue on the bleed, and I think, having cued ("this is a photograph") we read the picture photographically with all the connotations and powers that being a photograph endows it with.

    Tone/color spreads the bleed, accentuates it, uses it.

    ... and that's as far as I've gotten, thinking about this ...

    Back to your usual programming ...
  8. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    Apart from Brad's fine photo (which on my iphone looks neutral) none of the pics here that illustrate tone have any people in them. do any of you tone your people pics?
  9. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    i've just looked at google's interpretation of "famous black and white portrait photographs" and none of them look toned (at least to my untrained eye on my uncalibrated iphone). am i missing something here? are there any such photos with a noticeable tone?
  10. http://monovisions.com/10-famous-female-black-and-white-photographers/

    The one by Dorothea Lange shows a noticeable warm tone.
  11. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    thanks Supriyo.
  12. Be careful about judging tone from images on the Internet. Many that I've come across have been toned for Internet display but were either not toned or less toned to begin with. Google "steichen portrait of matisse", for example. You'll find differently toned instances of the very same photo.
    Landrum Kelly likes this.
  13. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    there's quite a difference isn't there.does the print version of Lange's photo have a warm tone?
  14. Don't know, Norman.
  15. Ref: Fred's comment:
    I wouldn't say, it didn't cross my mind when I posted the link, since it's so easy to recolor a photo digitally. So after seeing Fred's post, I went back and found the same photo on the internet in neutral tone. So I have to take that link back.

    I vaguely remember seeing some tinted portraits in the photographic gallery at the Getty Musem. Also, many calotype and ambrotype portraits from the 19th century look tinted. Not sure if it's the result of aging or deliberately toned.
  16. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    thanks Phil, those Corbijn's pics are great but the blue toned image is what I was hoping to see.
  17. Scattered bits from Ansel Adams:

    "Photographic papers are made in a fairly wide range of colors: Cold White (white with a slightly bluish cast), Natural White (white with a very slight ivory cast), Ivory White, Cream, and Buff."

    "Print Color: This is a property of both emulsion and paper base, and is modified by the development, and still further modified by toning. Some paper emulsions are basically "cold-toned," some are "warm-tones," and there are many steps between. Convira, for instance, is listed as having a cold blue-black tone, Cykora, as yielding a warm tone. Developer formulas are designed to favor warm or cold tones; the warmest tones are naturally obtained by using a warm-tone developer on a warm-tone paper.

    "The tones and colors that have become more or less standard in photography are seldom attractive to me, in themselves. I know of no modern paper on which the superb tones of platinum or carbon images can be even approached without careful selection of developer and subsequent toning. The olive-green black of many "warm-toned" papers does not, in my opinion, enhance the brilliance and richness of the silver image."

    "To sum up my personal preferences in the physical qualities of papers: I use double-weight papers of neutral or cool emulsion color on a cold white stock, in the glossy (but unferrotyped) finish. I work for a cool purple-black image by using a cold-toned developer and a slight toning in selenium."

    "Ilford Gallerie: This is a paper of very high quality which I use extensively. It is available in four grades. To begin with, Gallerie has a rather warm and slightly greenish color, but it tones differently from any other paper I have used. A few minutes in selenium toner changes the color to neutral. Thereafter it does not change ..."

    "Kodak papers: I have used Kodak papers for decades with very good results. I have found that Kodabromide Grade 4 tones very well in selenium, but the other grades do not. Other Kodak papers, especially Azo, tone very well. I have had excellent results with Polycontrast in prints for reproduction. However, it does not tone in selenium as I would like; the two emulsions required for variable contrast tone differently, giving a good tone to the middle and low values and little, if any, tone in the high values. The result is a "split-tone" effect that I find unpleasant."

    "Amidol [developer]: This is a long-used developing agent popular with some photographers; it produces rich and slightly cold black tones. It can be highly diluted to give very soft images if desired, while maintaining reasonably consistent print color. In the past I have used an amidol formula diluted with up to 20 or more parts of water, and achieved prints of beautiful tone from extremely constrasty negatives."


    Next is from Fred Picker:

    "I like Ilfabrome No. 2 for certain subjects that will benefit from its warm tone. It gives an impression of depth and dimension to the subject, and creates an atmosphere of space when developed four minutes or more in Dektol 1:2. This dimensional quality is not nearly as apparent when development is for the usual two minutes.

    "Varigam is colder in tone and has a different emotional quality. This paper has clarity and separation characteristics that work well with architectural, strong light and shadow effects, and portraits in open shade. This paper is brilliant. It has the advantage of being variable contrast, so a No. 1 grade print will match a No. 4 grade print in color and surface.

    "Many graded papers will show different range and color characteristics for the different grades. Kodabromide No. 2 will not show a clean black, nor will it respond well to toning, but the No. 3 and No. 4 will tone and have black capability. These papers are flatter, less brilliant than Varigam, but work well with some negatives."
  18. Its interesting how Ansel limited his discussion to the technical aspects without expanding on which tone he prefers under what scenarios and why. I found Fred Picker to be more relevant in that respect. One point: he finds warm tones to create depth and dimension, but he didn't say what emotional aspects colder tones bring out. He went a little in that direction when he said the varigam paper has good clarity and separation (contrast?).

    This just strikes me because, in audio equipments like headphones, a warm musical sound (enhanced low and low-mid frequencies) is considered emotional with more depth and less forgiving to fine details and noise, whereas analytical sound (equal proportions of low, mid and high frequencies) is often considered less emotional, more dry with enriched details and clarity. This again seem to suggest a connection between how we emotionally react to stimuli from different senses, warm/emotional: low frequency light waves/ sound waves, vs detailed analytical: higher frequency waves.
  19. I would love to see a discussion of how this issue relates to what I am doing today in digital. How do I obtain the same, intentional outcomes that Julie's quotes talk about, but in the modern, digital environment? What choices can we make and technical applications to achieve the same artistic effects as Adams or Picker obtained with negatives, chemicals, paper, and emulsion in the darkroom?
    Landrum Kelly likes this.
  20. David,
    Silver efex (the free software from Nick/Google) has a lot of options for toning including many presets. I seldom apply toning, but those options produce somewhat realistic effects on screen. A part of the equation in my opinion is the paper and effect of printer ink on the paper and reaction to light. For example, the ilford gallerie paper that Ansel mentions, has a modern version available that works with inkjet photo printers.

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