Sunday, 6 March 2011

Paris and I ~ 'Black and White and Red All Over'

iPhone Photo Chronicles
~ Black and White and Red All Over ~

People often ask me if I do 'black and white', which could easily be a discussion on one of my more 'technique-based' blogs like Paris Set Me Free, but it's this (iPhone) picture that inspired the thought so it's here.

And I find it an intriquing question, although it's generally intended as a straightforward one. It's almost as though some peope have subconsciously delineated two types of photography, independent, mutually exclusive, never the twain shall cross pixels or Ilford stop bath.

I don't think that way, although I'm probably thinking too deeply about the whole issue, full stop.

My answer, at its simplest, would be 'Yes, I do black and white'. But then again, it's more a case of the photo or image telling me to 'do' it. For me, black and white, or variations of it such as above, are dictated purely and simply by the image itself, and the technique of completely desaturating the colours is just one more option we have at our disposal to create interesting pictures.

I know you can really 'do' black and white in a much more obvious way: stick some b/w film in your camera or select black and white on your digital camera and off you go. But I rarely do this.

For one thing, I can always play around with the colours afterwards, and often do, including getting rid of the colour altogether or perverting it in some other way. And then if you do shoot from the start in black and white, what happens if you come across an incredible colour photo op when you're in the streets and can't capture it?

Then again, I'm also a fan of limiting yourself in order to be more creative, and forcing yourself to do a purely black and white session is a very good way of doing this. Another way is to buy a €10 throwaway camera and see what you can do with that: back to the old days - pay (for the film), point, click, pay (for the processing), see, smile or sigh; no second chance, a great discipline, and a great way to discover that long lost joy of photography, waiting for the results of your efforts!

So, my final answer would be twofold: I don't specifically shoot black and white, in the way some people have chosen to do, because I love colour too much. Having said that, I often exploit aspects of reduced tones, but most of my cues come from what I have in front of my eyes at the moment of shooting, which includes imagining the possibilities further down the creative line.

A couple of things shooting from the start in black and white is excellent for is in training you to look for differences in contrast, and spotting strong patterns, and the image above is a good example of these (as well as repetition of motif, but that's another blah-blah).

As I was trying to get the above shot, there was one clear creative message shouting at me: get the repetition of the black and white striped zebra crossing and the flag. Once I'd decided, in a split second, that that was the basis of a potentially good photo, the challenge was to incorporate as many other elements as possible to strengthen and support that initial idea. These would include framing, expression of the man, position of the man, watching the background (no bins!!), imagining further repetition (e.g. further striding leg on left) and elimination of all other inappropriate objects and colours if deemed unuseful.

Added to that these days are all the post-shooting options, but I won't go into those here. In the old days you also had plenty of after-the-fact possibilities, such as dodging and burning, vignetting and the choice of processing chemicals and paper to change the tones and 'feel' of the image. These days you can mimic many of these, albeit with a certain melancholic nostalgia for the smell of the developing trays, the excitement of exposing the paper and literally creating the image 'first hand', and of course those unforgettable chemical coughs and burns.

To talk creative decisions here just for once, for the photo above I decided to take the 'almost black and white but better' approach, or 'New: black and white, now with added colour'.. ;-) Make up your own advertising slogan for this idea if you like!

I did a couple of purely black and white versions but I liked the deeper 'richness' of the blacks and whites in this version, and the two discrete but significant dashes of colour (the red and the yellow) add a non-distracting but very pleasant additional point of interest to the shot, I feel.

The shot being a wonderfully spontaneous moment of a totally unexpected Montmartre parade supposedly celebrating some Brittany foodstuff or other. The cynics amongst us might read 'screaming marketing op'. That's what you get for mooching around the heights of northern Paris on a chilly January morning, or was it Feb. You should try it sometime. In black and white or colour, or a bit of both: the choice is entirely up to you.

*Remembering my childhood, which is becoming more and more difficult, the answer to the question 'What's Black & White & Red All Over?' from the title could be: a newspaper, an embarrassed zebra, a nun falling down the stairs, the communist party manifesto, or a penguin in a liquidizer. I've spared you the really sick ones, so be thankful for small mercies...

© 2011
Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Contact me directly for photo tours, interviews, exhibitions, etc.

1 comment:

Rob said...

I am in agreement, not all photos are candidates for a black and white image. This photo is proof that selective color desaturation is yet another tool in the photoshop tool bag of tricks.

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