No, this post isn’t about Lao Tzu’s poem or Sam Phillips’ music, although “Five Colors” is a great song. This post is about the fact that I like to use black and white photography to re-sensitize myself to composition, texture, story and moment. I wrote about this before as a “deprivation exercise.”
If I may oversimplify and trivialize the concept – and it’s my blog, so I certainly may – Lao Tzu and Sam Phillips suggest that overstimulation blinds us to the essence of things. As an anti-art lowbrow, I don’t give a hoot about the essence of things, but I do care about making photos that work. For me, a photo that works is a photo that engages a viewer “emotionally” and then holds him or her intellectually. I don’t know if I’ve made any yet, but that’s my goal. When the colors are distracting me or interfering with the image, I get rid of them.
I’ve noticed at photo club meetings that black and white images possess an unfair advantage: Viewers immediately assume the image is more serious because it is in black and white. I don’t know what to make of that. I surely don’t.
Today, there are dozens of ways to convert images to monochrome. Some folks just de-saturate the image, which certainly removes the color, but that’s a very limited approach. When I was using Photoshop, I bought a Fred Miranda plug-in that provided tremendous control over the tonality of monochrome images, with duotones, tri-tones, filter effects, and various film grain emulations. It’s a lot of fun.
Nowadays I use Aperture 3.0, which includes a black and white feature I’m just learning to use. And by “learning,” I mean that I’m fooling around with it. It also allows filter emulation, so I can shoot in color and then see the image as if I’d shot in black and white with a red filter, for example.
Converting images to black and white has always been my fallback position when faced with mixed lighting color issues and overly noisy color images, but I’m going to try to take black and white images farther this year by making them on purpose, and including at least one image with each blog post. Wish me luck.