My very first practical experience with photography was b/w. When I was 5 or 6 years old, I had access to my first camera. With that came the privilege that my older brother was participating in the photo group at his school, including b/w film development. Lucky me.
Well, I am not sure, if that is the reason, why I love b/w photography so much. As a matter of fact I made conscious decisions in the past to document my journeys to Israel and U.S.A. in b/w exclusively. That was in the days before digital and I used b/w film. There was no chance of second thoughts. (I could have bought colour film at my destination, but that would have been cheating..)
My self education on photography during my childhood depended on the availability of photography books at our local library. Guess what. A lot of those books reproduced b/w photographs.
What makes b/w photography so special?
- It takes away colour clutter. When you remove colour from photographs you are left with less tools to create your images. It comes down to composition and shadow and light. What else is there?
- B/w appears to be more intense. You focus more on the image with it’s subtractions.
- It is different to how most of us experience the world. There is an element of strangeness to b/w.
- Composition becomes more important.
- I experience b/w photographs as more emotional. They touch me more in the stories they tell. This is a very personal experience and might not be the same for everyone.
In my professional work, I often include at least one b/w image from the portrait sessions. Most likely, those are also my favorite images from my visual dialogue with my clients. B/w pictures come quickly to the point and say what they have to say. There is no nice colour here or nice colour there. Say, what you have to say and say it clearly. That is b/w photography for me.
On rare occasions, clients ask me to photograph them in b/w from the beginning. I love that challenge. These clients know what they want. B/w photography is character building for both photographer and personality in front of the camera. B/w portraits make me look more closely and I discover aspects of people, I haven’t seen before.
B/w photography brings me down to basics and links me to my film (analogue) days in my photographic journey. When I knew that I was shooting b/w only (with b/w film loaded in my camera), I was able to think and see in b/w. The concept of pre-visualization, seeing the image completed in your mind before you press the shutter get quickly lost in our digital, instant gratification age. Digital cameras allow us to shoot first and then think. “Oh, this looks great, let me choose this picture” becomes often the norm for us.
Recently, I unpacked my old film camera and shot some film. I enjoyed the process of slowing down. I caught myself several times in trying to check on the non-existing LCD on the back on the outcome of the picture. Obviously, there was nothing to see. It brought back some magic to photography for me.
I reckon, it is time to photograph a portrait session on b/w film …