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Author Topic: If colour photography had come first ...  (Read 5152 times)
tonysmith
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« on: February 21, 2010, 02:56:05 PM »
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It seems that b/w photography is still associated with fine art photography in many minds. Is that because that's all there was when fine art photography first developed? Or is it because of some values that are intrisic to b/w? Does b/w have some advantage over colour in fine art photography? On the other hand, if colour photography had come first, would anybody even have thought to do b/w?

What do you think?

Tony
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fredjeang
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« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2010, 03:41:28 PM »
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Quote from: tonysmith
It seems that b/w photography is still associated with fine art photography in many minds. Is that because that's all there was when fine art photography first developed? Or is it because of some values that are intrisic to b/w? Does b/w have some advantage over colour in fine art photography? On the other hand, if colour photography had come first, would anybody even have thought to do b/w?

What do you think?

Tony
Tony,
In ARCO, I have not seen one B&W (but I could not see all of course),
The recent exhibitions I saw in fine arts galleries were all color works. Not one B&W.
I can tell you that now color in fine arts is by far more present in practise.
So I guess the B&W legend is more because so many great masters have left this print in mass-media's mind.

Regards,

Fred.
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ckimmerle
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« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2010, 08:35:08 AM »
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Tony,

I'm not sure your statement is accurate. I would venture to guess that the majority of popular (among galleries and collectors) of contemporary fine art work is in color. The recent trend is for highly conceptualized images, which negates many of b/w's special attributes, such as the ability of photographers to "interpret" the scene (for lack of a better word) and for shape and texture to be the primary visual force. As these scenes are usually highly controlled, color can be used as an interpretation or shape, itself.

Black and white is still used a lot for more traditional landscape work, but I would venture that is primarily due to the fact that it allows us, as photographers, to expand upon Mother Nature's often limited color palette and instead to offer somewhat romanticized versions of the reality before us.

As for whether or not b/w would exist if color were invented first, I would venture to guess it would. Many scenes simply do not lend themselves to color and we, as photographers and artists, would try different methods to bring out the visual merit we "see", but cannot realize using color. As naturally creative folk, we're prone to that sort of experimenting.
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« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2010, 09:25:41 AM »
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One might look for an answer in painting. Color's been available in painting and drawing since cave-man days, but there's been a fair amount of monochrome painting and drawing. Grayscale is a different medium from color. It depends on a kind of graphic balance color rarely achieves. I'm pretty sure there'd have been B&W photography even if color had been invented first.
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patrickt
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« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2010, 08:50:48 AM »
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Quote from: RSL
One might look for an answer in painting. Color's been available in painting and drawing since cave-man days, but there's been a fair amount of monochrome painting and drawing. Grayscale is a different medium from color. It depends on a kind of graphic balance color rarely achieves. I'm pretty sure there'd have been B&W photography even if color had been invented first.

A Frenchman who owned a restauant/gallery here asked me to exhibit my work but said, "I only show black-and-white, it's more artistic." I responded, "That probably explains why all great French painters painted in black and white." He eventually decided to show my work even though it was in color.
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Gordon Buck
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« Reply #5 on: February 24, 2010, 09:05:08 AM »
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The tease that I often pose is "Suppose that the technology and economics of the first photographic processes required that photographs be purple and gold.  Would purple and gold be the "art" form today?"

(OK, so purple and gold are the colors of Louisiana State University.  How about black and gold -- like the Super Bowl Champion Saints?)



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Rob C
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« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2010, 09:21:54 AM »
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There is probably much history behind the concept of b/w being more artistic, in the sense that it came first, but I don't think that explains its allure. After all, most of us who are over ten have had the experience of working in both, and make our choices accordingly, more based upon horses for courses, I'd expect, than any artificial idea of one being more artistic a medium than the other.

When I find myself doing colour (on the computer) I often feel an urge to close the damn thing down and start scanning something old and taking it forward as b/w, regardless of whether the original was b/w or colour. Something about colour printing feels sort of, well, mired in the amateur ethic, part of a later snapshot culture rather than a more studied one of deliberate thought. Of course, this is only the case in amateur work (in its best sense) and has no bearing on professional work which is what it is required to be, and that's all there is to it.

There is something a bit boring about trying to match a transparency or produce something that looks sort of naturally coloured or toned; even worse (to me) is the effort wasted in distorting colour just to let something be different from what you saw through the lens. And that's the buzz of b/w: there is no reality that you might feel obliged to match; you go ahead and produce in a personal world of interpretation that has few rules - if any - and nobody can tell you your view is wrong. That's a kind of freedom, if you will. A freedom both to reduce a thing to its elements yet endow it with a power that it didn't obviously have in life. I like that.

However, I don't believe in exclusive rules about this: there are strong colour themes that would just be meaningless printed in b/w. Both are valid but perhaps b/w can offer more freedom of expression in that your print is what you want it to be, not to be prejudged by viewer experience, just like a definition of art itself might claim.

Rob C
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« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2010, 05:17:45 PM »
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Rob, I agree. B&W is a different artform from color. In the days when we shot B&W routinely we had to learn to see in B&W. And if we wanted to boost the jazziness of our prints we had to do the kind of thing Ansel Adams and Gene Smith did: raise the contrast, subdue the shadows, boost the highlights -- in other words, use at least #3 paper and burn and dodge like mad. It's interesting to see the before and afters for some of Gene Smith's stuff. The end product only remotely resembles the original contacts. If, as Ansel Adams suggested, the negative is the score and the print is the performance, Gene sometimes seemed to be performing Beethoven on the theremin. But even at their most extreme, B&W exaggerations didn't descend to the kind of extremism I see in modern, computer enhanced color. Kodachrome and Velvia were bad enough, but what sometimes gets printed as "art" in Color magazine is beyond the pale. But then I remember that when you're very young you simply don't know any better. At twenty five, primary colors are the best kind, and beer's the best stuff out there. Once you mature you find that minimalism has genuine appeal, and that a perfect Manhattan is a marvelous prelude to dinner.
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Rob C
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« Reply #8 on: April 02, 2010, 10:20:08 AM »
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Quote from: RSL
Once you mature you find that minimalism has genuine appeal, and that a perfect Manhattan is a marvelous prelude to dinner.


Which, in itself, is sometimes a marvellously enjoyable prelude too!

;-(

Rob C
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DanielStone
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« Reply #9 on: April 09, 2010, 10:57:30 AM »
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I've found that working with b/w materials helps to free a bit more of my "artistic" side than working with color.

with b/w, you don't have to worry about color balance, just density. This allows you to work(at least it does me) with much less worry about "getting the right color", because with b/w, you're focusing more on the composition, and the subject matter at hand. At least that's what its like for me.

However, I like shooting color. It allows you to express emotion(b/w can as well, but in a different sort of way), but I've always found that when going to a showing(someone elses) at a gallery, you always get that 1 person who says "why did they print this so cool(color temp-wise)?"), with b/w, its much more simple.

your eyes focus more on the subject in the photograph, rather than being distracted by color. it allows you to focus more, with less distractions.

but working with color materials however can be a very liberating experience, allowing you to express yourself in ways that b/w simply cannot. Like a fall scene, where you have a stand of very vibrant-colored trees. I can convey my feelings about that scene in b/w, but it might not have the same impact as if I had shot it on color(E100vs in 4x5 would be my choice for this type of scene, or Velvia)

just my $.02

-Dan
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RichardGilbert
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« Reply #10 on: April 09, 2010, 12:54:53 PM »
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When you photograph people in colour you photograph their clothes.  But when you photograph people in B&W, you photograph their souls!  ~Ted Grant


When you have a black and white and black photograph I think you're forced to look at the subject and not just the color.
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