Saturday, March 24, 2007

Black and White Photographs

Every exhibition I've read about recently has been color images. Some of them huge color images like Jeff Wall's wall-size back-lit images currently at the MOMA. And there seems to be several recent blog threads about what is happening with contemporary black and white images here at Tim Atherton's blog and here at Colin Jago's blog as well as Charlotte Cotton's essay titled "The New Color: The Return of Black and White." Although she comes to the conclusion that Black and White images are beginning to have a resurgence, she initially writes:

"But it is definitely more hit-and-miss for a photographer working in black-and-white to anticipate whether or not their full meaning and contemporary relevance will be understood in light of color art photography's dominance. At the beginning of this millennium, I found it difficult to keep my confidence that photography's monochrome history continued to exert a strong influence on the way we see. At least that you could no longer take as a given that black-and-white was necessarily influential in art school discourses or read by exhibition-goers as anything more than an historic and once-important art form. "

Recently on Gloria in Africa blog, Gloria mentioned that she is surprised at her positive feelings about the digital color photographs she took in Africa because her work has been Black and White. This leaves me wondering if I'm going to be seeing some of her work in color. Who else among my photographer friends whose work has basically been in Black and White are beginning to see the possibility of doing some of their work in color like I've been doing for the last three or so years....since owning a DSLR.

So with all these thoughts swirling around in my head I've been looking at my older work in Black and White as well as experimenting with making monochrome prints from digital files and trying to sort out my own place in all of this.

Back in the 80's, for a while I thought I could carry two cameras, one loaded with color film and the other with monochrome film. I wasn't capable of seeing both ways at the same time. I stopped carrying the color film. While the image in the viewfinder was in color, when I had monochrome film in the camera, I saw or previsualized the image as a monochrome image. But now with the digital camera, knowing that the image will appear in color on my monitor, I see or previsualize the image as a color image. Converting it to a monochrome image seems to be a manipulation. Somehow the word manipulation carries a negative connotation in my head....I know, I know....I manipulated the monochrome image in the darkroom but a photoshop manipulation....I'll just have to get over it! But nevertheless the color image is seductive. It is hard to put out of mind when I look at one of my finished monochrome prints and I'm considered a pretty good monochrome printer.

Another reason why I haven't converted many digital files to monochrome is because I haven't been satisfied with Black and White digital prints....not just mine but Black and White digital prints in general. Two things are going on here. First, the inkjet printers were developed for color images and they have had problems with producing good monochrome prints. Between advances with the inks, papers, software and hardware, these problems are pretty much solved. Secondly, some Black and White prints that I see have been overly manipulated and sharpened. To me they look more like illustrations than a photographic print.

And there is another thing, like the galleries and buying public, I've really been seduced by color images. For the first time I'm able to truly have control over the final product, the color print. But maybe now the honeymoon is over and I can get back to making Black and White images............not all the time, but some of the time. Is this rethinking the Black and White image a "nostalgia for a historic process?" Or will the new tools allow me new ways to interpret the Black and White print? I don't have a clue but it seems to be the thing to do with my work at this time.

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