Over the last year, as I have sought to improve my photography, I have been boring friends, colleagues, and family to death with endless “What do you think of this one?”-type interrogations, and, ironically, and I must admit somewhat irritatingly, the response I get the most is, “Would it not be better in colour?”
Whilst there are numerous minor contributory reasons for my preference for black and white photography, the predominating reason is very simple.
I see the world in black and white.
Many who know me would immediately agree vociferously that I can be a judgemental, intransigent, and opionated old grump, that’s not what I mean.
For some reason unknown to me, when I see a picture in my head, I most often visualize the final version as a black and white picture.
Any photographer worth their salt would, of course, immediately point out that “black and white” is not actually “black and white” at all, it’s just an impression that my mind is creating. The reality is that my mind is actually visualising the scene in varying shades of grey – an even scale from absolute black, up through the murky depths of dark shadow, passing through light shadow and medium greys, on up to medium whites, highlights, and eventually all the way up to absolute white.
As with most things in life, there’s nothing of interest to be found at the extremes. It’s simply not possible to pick out any detail. It’s only as we work our way from each extremity towards the centre of the scale that interesting detail starts to become apparent, and a clear picture begins to emerge.
When I was working in Amsterdam on Tristan und Isolde this last winter, the city was staging a Festival of Light, with all sorts of weird and wonderful light installations situated around the city. I did my very best to try and capture them in colour, and, while I feel this works well for some of the images, others feel stronger to me in black and white.
The beauty of modern digital photography is that you aren’t limited to one option or the other in order to make a print. You can enjoy the best of both worlds.
So I’m offering up a pot-pourri of both here, in the hope that, in one format or another, I manage to convey the feeling of this remarkable Festival of Light. Looking back, the photos are of an embarrassingly uneven standard, as I was still getting my head around how my new digital camera worked, but I hope they serve to illustrate the two differing approaches, and the relative merits of each.