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Author Topic: B/W more power as an art form than colour  (Read 33005 times)
pgpgsxr
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« on: October 02, 2006, 05:10:18 PM »
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I´m surrounded at my day job by people who are not really into photography, however they enjoy the photography books I bring in every so often. The point is they all seem to engage with the B/W images at a different level than the colour ones. Their response is the B/W images seem to have more elegance and a sense of timelessness and a visual distance which give them a richer experience. One of them said B/W was more "arty" and had more visual power than colour which is in some ways was too explicit. (The books I take into work revolve around the works of Brett Weston, Ansel Adams, Michael kenna, Jame Nachtwey. The colour work can be anything from Steve McCurry, Jack Dakynga, Joe Cornish, John Claridge and many more).
 Does anyone else feel that B/W has more strength and importance in the artworld than colour?
 Paul
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macgyver
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« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2006, 05:43:53 PM »
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I'm not sure I feel it does, but I've been saying for years that there are people who see b/w as more "artistic" than color for no apparent reason.
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Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2006, 08:44:03 PM »
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I think one reason it seems that way to some people is that B&W is intrinsically more abstract than color. By leaving something to the imagination it may engage some viewers more deeply.

Eric
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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #3 on: October 03, 2006, 12:11:41 AM »
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I think one reason it seems that way to some people is that B&W is intrinsically more abstract than color. By leaving something to the imagination it may engage some viewers more deeply.

Eric
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Along those lines, B&W is a departure from reality that is immediately perceived by the viewer while color photography still has the old deamon sticking to it of being just a mere [photo]copy the World.

Obviously, the photographs of Steve McCurry on Asia picture a World that differs a lot from our daily experiences, and the way he works on the colors of his pictures also IS a departure from reality, but it probably still looks too real for being perceived as art at a glance.

Cheers,
Bernard
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Rob C
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« Reply #4 on: October 03, 2006, 05:04:57 AM »
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I´m surrounded at my day job by people who are not really into photography, however they enjoy the photography books I bring in every so often. The point is they all seem to engage with the B/W images at a different level than the colour ones. Their response is the B/W images seem to have more elegance and a sense of timelessness and a visual distance which give them a richer experience. One of them said B/W was more "arty" and had more visual power than colour which is in some ways was too explicit. (The books I take into work revolve around the works of Brett Weston, Ansel Adams, Michael kenna, Jame Nachtwey. The colour work can be anything from Steve McCurry, Jack Dakynga, Joe Cornish, John Claridge and many more).
 Does anyone else feel that B/W has more strength and importance in the artworld than colour?
 Paul
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Hi Paul

Interesting proposition: is b/w more 'artistic' a medium than colour?

Well, for my money, it is. This is largely derived from personal experience over many years of darkroom (b/w) work where the ability to get a desired effect from the negative and chemicals was paramount. Yes, this was all professional, and there might be reason to consider this sort of work somehow less artistic than self-induced photography but not in my book. In essence, the validation for considering b/w more artistic, then, is that in my personal experience it was little to do with accident and a hell of a lot to do with skill and 'eye' in achieving a predetermined result, the very qualities which, for me, define the artist.

Colour. Well, early in my training I had the chance to spend a lot of time in a colour darkroom (back in the early/mid 60s) processing transparencies, colour negs and making 4 x 5 colour negs from a variety of sources including 16mm film and, finally, printing the results. I learned there that chemistry and temperature control and strict adherence to instruction was essential if one wanted to be roughly? certain of the result. Somehow, that did not gel with my ideas of the freedom of art. The medium (remember the epoch) was, for me, too restrictive for anything beyond technical photography.

Today, with digital, I find that those early impressions have hardly been altered and that, if anything, colour printing today is even further removed from what I consider art than in days of yore. Why so? Perhaps because it has reached a point where the mechanic is now more important than the visionary. Someone with a very thorough grounding in PShop will certainly be able to produce very cleverly constructed pictures from combinations of cloud originals, landscapes, whatever. But, again on the personal front, none of this interests me. The person who can get it all together in a single frame is, in my judgement, the real photographer.

(I hope I offend no one on this forum with this heretical view - it's just my mind and how it works.)

But, back to the original question of b/w v. colour, yes, even in the new digital era I am happier with getting a really pleasing b/w than achieving the same with a  digital colour print . In fact, I might even prefer working b/w digitally now than I did doing it in the wet! Some things in the printing process are easier now, some not so. I find that the shading/burning in that could be done by hand was often faster and more convincing than the same operation by computer. Obviously, personal experience only, others will disagree.

Black and white still rules!

Ciao - Rob C
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« Reply #5 on: October 03, 2006, 12:47:29 PM »
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Is one more artistic?  Don't know that I'd go that far.  B/W images are certainly stripped down to their basic elements - texture, shape, shadow, etc. while there are some colour images that are appealing primarily because of the colours present, but I won't give the edge to one or the other... just different.

Mike.
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russell a
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« Reply #6 on: October 03, 2006, 06:38:54 PM »
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My hypothesis regarding the issue of color vs. black & white are that it is easier to control certain parameters that are critical to visual impact in black and white.  These are 1)  the unity of the image - colors in nature are not created to reinforce a balanced structure of resonance and opposition of the sort that one can create in a painting - often the most successful color photographs (and paintings too) have a limited color palette - limited in hue and/or saturation  2) the movement of the eye through the image - because of the perception of color as communicating depth (red advancing, blue receding) the eye movement is further complicated by pushes and pulls in the z axis and 3) the color push and pull tends to dilute the planar integrity and thus the framing of the image - framing being one of the most important choices we make in capturing the image.

Clearly successful artistic photographic images [insert your definition here] can be successfully produced in either color or black & white.  It may be significantly easier to control critical parameters in black and white images.
« Last Edit: October 03, 2006, 06:39:43 PM by russell a » Logged
Rob C
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« Reply #7 on: October 04, 2006, 11:54:03 AM »
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My hypothesis regarding the issue of color vs. black & white are that it is easier to control certain parameters that are critical to visual impact in black and white.  These are 1)  the unity of the image - colors in nature are not created to reinforce a balanced structure of resonance and opposition of the sort that one can create in a painting - often the most successful color photographs (and paintings too) have a limited color palette - limited in hue and/or saturation  2) the movement of the eye through the image - because of the perception of color as communicating depth (red advancing, blue receding) the eye movement is further complicated by pushes and pulls in the z axis and 3) the color push and pull tends to dilute the planar integrity and thus the framing of the image - framing being one of the most important choices we make in capturing the image.

Clearly successful artistic photographic images [insert your definition here] can be successfully produced in either color or black & white.  It may be significantly easier to control critical parameters in black and white images.
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Hi russell a

Quite; the thing is, though, that whilst all these notions are pretty true and accurate in themselves, the creative moment is still more or less instantaneous and there is no time to think about choices at the moment of shooting - you have to have it in your mind before you start. Equally, at the time of viewing an image, none of the definitions are there, in a head-up display: the feeling for or against the image is right in your eye, head or gut and probably manifests itself straight away. Obviously, this is just how it strikes me, but I guess I'm pretty typical in that sense.

Nevertheless, a great theme for investigation - maybe Emma has the time and energy still?

Ciao  Rob C
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russell a
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« Reply #8 on: October 04, 2006, 04:51:13 PM »
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whilst all these notions are pretty true and accurate in themselves, the creative moment is still more or less instantaneous and there is no time to think about choices at the moment of shooting - you have to have it in your mind before you start.

Of course.  Nothing beats having internalized a keen sense of choosing the frame that conforms to what you believe your intent to be, unless you want to be like the photogs who shoot for advertisments and who may repaint a whole scene to match their storyboard.
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sgwrx
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« Reply #9 on: October 04, 2006, 10:07:07 PM »
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this is interesting, for me black and white is more concrete whereas color is more abstract. B&W is more concrete for me in that it deals more with shape and form of solid or relatively solid subjects.

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Along those lines, B&W is a departure from reality that is immediately perceived by the viewer while color photography still has the old deamon sticking to it of being just a mere [photo]copy the World.

Obviously, the photographs of Steve McCurry on Asia picture a World that differs a lot from our daily experiences, and the way he works on the colors of his pictures also IS a departure from reality, but it probably still looks too real for being perceived as art at a glance.

Cheers,
Bernard
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Rob C
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« Reply #10 on: October 05, 2006, 03:24:41 AM »
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Of course.  Nothing beats having internalized a keen sense of choosing the frame that conforms to what you believe your intent to be, unless you want to be like the photogs who shoot for advertisments and who may repaint a whole scene to match their storyboard.
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Good morning, russell a

I've been in the shoes of the advertising photographer and, whilst I've never had to repaint a scene, the problem there is probably more to do with the ad agency mavern who dreamed up the idea for the shot in the first place. Storyboards and layouts are often a pain in the ass, designed by someone with no idea of how lenses see life, with not a lot of concern for practicality but a huge concern for selling the concept to the client, come what may further down the line.

Of course, the decision about b/w or colour is taken by accountants who are not exactly renowned for their creative VISUAL talents even though their imaginations elsewhere may be raging. To that extent, I guess the photographers may be forgiven, prima donna multi-millionaire examples perhaps operating on a different playing field to the modest one I know...

Ciao - Rob C
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emma_g
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« Reply #11 on: October 12, 2006, 07:52:35 PM »
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Russell a
I enjoyed very much the precise analysis you’ve provided of the implications of structural considerations involved in comparing monochromatic media to full colour. I would agree that these issues are somehow much easier to resolve in monochrome, and this is not unique to photography. In the media of woodcuts, exceptional work in B&W far exceeds work in colour for instance. The technical achievements of Japanese woodcut artists like Hokusai far surpass most western woodcut work, yet I find my personal experience of the Japanese work feels somehow diminished in a side-by-side comparison of both formats.
Some of the psychological impact does seem to rely on cultural and personal association. The documentation of many of our lives spans the transition of B&W to colour. All of the pictures of my early childhood are B&W as is a large portion of my experience of the surrounding world through .B&W television, newspapers and magazines, even school textbooks. I cannot help but add the associations of personal history and nostalgia to my experience of these items even today.
One of the great advantages I perceive in digital media of all forms is the ability to remaster my own work in either colour or B&W to test questions about impact more precisely. It appears to be generally easiest to make such remastering more successful in either direction when an image is restricted to tonal variations of limited yet extreme contrast. Painters most often sketch in B&W before painting to work out many of the issues you’ve described in order to more successfully integrate colour into their painting. At least I do.

Rob C
Perhaps this time you could test our speculations by converting a few colour images to B&W and noting the differences in your responses as to impact?
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Rob C
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« Reply #12 on: October 13, 2006, 10:14:04 AM »
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Russell a
I enjoyed very much the precise analysis you’ve provided of the implications of structural considerations involved in comparing monochromatic media to full colour. I would agree that these issues are somehow much easier to resolve in monochrome, and this is not unique to photography. In the media of woodcuts, exceptional work in B&W far exceeds work in colour for instance. The technical achievements of Japanese woodcut artists like Hokusai far surpass most western woodcut work, yet I find my personal experience of the Japanese work feels somehow diminished in a side-by-side comparison of both formats.
Some of the psychological impact does seem to rely on cultural and personal association. The documentation of many of our lives spans the transition of B&W to colour. All of the pictures of my early childhood are B&W as is a large portion of my experience of the surrounding world through .B&W television, newspapers and magazines, even school textbooks. I cannot help but add the associations of personal history and nostalgia to my experience of these items even today.
One of the great advantages I perceive in digital media of all forms is the ability to remaster my own work in either colour or B&W to test questions about impact more precisely. It appears to be generally easiest to make such remastering more successful in either direction when an image is restricted to tonal variations of limited yet extreme contrast. Painters most often sketch in B&W before painting to work out many of the issues you’ve described in order to more successfully integrate colour into their painting. At least I do.

Rob C
Perhaps this time you could test our speculations by converting a few colour images to B&W and noting the differences in your responses as to impact?
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Hey, Emma

Well, I've done quite a lot of converting to b/w from colour, both from transparency via scanner and direct from digital capture. As I've mentioned elsewhere recently, each method seems to produce a different kind of validity with a third method, b/w negative original coming out best.

Frankly, the latter one is the only one which makes ultimate sense (unles we DO get a b/w sensor - pace Michael) because of one simple factor: you make the decision to shoot b/w right at the start of the operation and that is paramount. In the simplest terms, and you grasp this well particularly if you have had fashion experience, you have to mentally convert everything before you into terms of b/w and infinite greys. For example, if you shot a mid-toned red dress in front of a mid-toned blue sea, your client would wonder where the hell the dress had gone.

And that, too, is relevant to landscape if not universally so. Leaving the choice to after the event is robbing yourself of the best shot at getting it right.

Ciao - Rob C
« Last Edit: October 13, 2006, 10:18:20 AM by Rob C » Logged

benInMA
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« Reply #13 on: October 13, 2006, 12:58:14 PM »
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I think some of it just comes from the ability to manipulate a B&W photograph to greater extents then a color photograph before the image starts to look fake or contrived.

You can demphasize a particular color in a B&W photo through filters, etc.. without it looking particularly ridiculous.

Whereas doing the same in a color photo just looks "wrong" to the viewer in many cases.

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I have done no color of consequence for thirty years! I have a problem with color—I cannot adjust to the limited controls of values and colors. With black–and–white I feel free and confident of results.

(Guess who?)
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Rob C
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« Reply #14 on: October 13, 2006, 03:03:20 PM »
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I think some of it just comes from the ability to manipulate a B&W photograph to greater extents then a color photograph before the image starts to look fake or contrived.

You can demphasize a particular color in a B&W photo through filters, etc.. without it looking particularly ridiculous.

Whereas doing the same in a color photo just looks "wrong" to the viewer in many cases.
(Guess who?)
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That's a very good point and does illustrate that there are limits to how far one should 'manipulate' an original neg or tranny or file. However, don't you sometimes get the feeling that for many people it is the journey inside the computer that matters most?

For me, that part of the journey is the tunnel; the sooner I'm back out in the light the better! But hey, that's okay - it's all about whatever turns you on. But, if you have to live by photography then that's something very else. The less messing about in tunnels the better it becomes!

Ciao - Rob C
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benInMA
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« Reply #15 on: October 14, 2006, 12:24:13 PM »
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I meant manipulation at the scene & with the camera too, not digital darkroom.

The quote was from Adams, not exactly a big computer user I'd imagine.  
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Rob C
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« Reply #16 on: October 14, 2006, 03:39:24 PM »
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I meant manipulation at the scene & with the camera too, not digital darkroom.

The quote was from Adams, not exactly a big computer user I'd imagine. 
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Yes, I know what you meant, but I was referring to something other than simply your post; I did not, however, know whom you were quoting, but it figures.

I guess that what I was trying to suggest was that all this computer obsession which is raging around the internet is something a little removed from what I'd consider the spirit of photogaphy; it's much like golf, in a way, in that one uses the most difficult tools imaginable to put a little ball inside a hole when one could simply pick it up and do the same thing in less than a minute. Do you see what I'm getting at?

Ciao - Rob C
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pgpgsxr
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« Reply #17 on: October 14, 2006, 03:46:07 PM »
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Thank you all very much for your responses to my post, I haven´t been able to reply before as I have been sick in hospital!
 Just one more point about the differences between B/W and Color: can you imagine Michael Kenna´s book, Japan in color!!
 Cheers Paul
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russell a
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« Reply #18 on: October 14, 2006, 05:30:21 PM »
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Yes, I know what you meant, but I was referring to something other than simply your post; I did not, however, know whom you were quoting, but it figures.

I guess that what I was trying to suggest was that all this computer obsession which is raging around the internet is something a little removed from what I'd consider the spirit of photogaphy; it's much like golf, in a way, in that one uses the most difficult tools imaginable to put a little ball inside a hole when one could simply pick it up and do the same thing in less than a minute. Do you see what I'm getting at?

Ciao - Rob C
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Two comments:  I am convinced that if Ansel Adams were alive today, he would be on computers like ...... lichen on a rock.  He might well have written a few books on Photoshop.

I see nothing wrong with treating computer manipulation of photography as a kind of game - there are many more pernicious ways to spend time.  Whether or not it done in "the spirit of photography" varies widely.  The golf analogy is misplaced - it's the journey after all.
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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #19 on: October 14, 2006, 10:36:06 PM »
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Quite; the thing is, though, that whilst all these notions are pretty true and accurate in themselves, the creative moment is still more or less instantaneous and there is no time to think about choices at the moment of shooting - you have to have it in your mind before you start. Equally, at the time of viewing an image, none of the definitions are there, in a head-up display: the feeling for or against the image is right in your eye, head or gut and probably manifests itself straight away.
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Interesting discussion. I personnaly feel that educated feelings are only the trigger of an investigation that requires the brain to turn into something outstanding.

Is understanding of theory needed for the initial feeling to become relevant, I am not too sure, but I still think that becoming a better photographer - in B&W or Color - is the result of those fulgurant intuitions being fed by knowledge and experience.

The second step will always require some level of conscious thinking for me.

Cheers,
Bernard
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