Rodger / Mike
I've always loved color photographs. I'm one of those antediluvian photographers who started out exclusively in color in the early 1970s when everyone did black and white and color was suspect, fit for only amateurs and commercial hacks. My hero, Walker Evans, actually said, in print, that color photography is vulgar.
I never took more than an occasional B&W photo, and except for jobs (weddings, grip-and-grins) never shot color negative film either. For me it was always 35 mm transparencies: Kodachrome, Ektachrome, and later Fujichrome, in all their various ASAs and color temperatures. Slides were absolutely beautiful, jeweled true-to-life miniatures that lived for the light! Look at my Waterworks Series at my gallery pages. Shot on Ektachrome 64 in 1978, they are still rich and alive after more than three decades.
There wasn't any way for me to print them for years; I never dreamed of trying dye transfer, and the first release of Cibachrome was a bust. Then, sometime in the late '70s or early '80s, it was reintroduced, and I was finally up and running! I printed my own and other people's Cibachromes—later renamed Ilfochrome—for over 20 years, finally shifting to digital printing via a film scanner (and later from digital cameras) in about 2004.
During all these years I've watched color photographs become respectable in museums and galleries due to lots of serious B&W photographers taking up color and, equally important, to color prints becoming more and more acceptably permanent.
I'm just glad that today, vulgar or not, both my original photographs and their various reproductions are in full color.
Photographer and photography collector
Unlike Rodger, I knew I liked monochrome best even before I was a photographer. I used to be obsessive about looking at art, and one day in the art library at college I had an epiphany—I suddenly realized that I liked the drawings better than the finished paintings, grays better than colors.
The darkroom was what liberated me to use photography. I've learned subsequently that every great B&W printer has strong opinions about tone, like great conductors have strong opinions about tempo. When I was a teenager I used to get B&W prints made at the local pharmacy, and I drove them crazy sending the prints back again and again because they weren't right. Having my own darkroom allowed me to express tone.
Photography was the one little refuge in the art world where shades of gray were taken seriously. Now the world's turned upside down—all the cameras shoot color, all the printers print color, and B&W is suddenly only "legacy." And most of the cameras are bad with tone. They don't give you room to move, room to interpret.
When I started working with a 4x5 view camera in the 1980s I shot only color negative film, and I quickly learned that people liked my color work a lot better than they liked my B&W work. But I didn't.
Of course I can appreciate other peoples' work in color. I'm not blind to it. I know that many people respond more directly to color—they respond to it emotionally and viscerally. They feel it. I’m the opposite. As I once wrote, "tones move me, colors don't. I don't know why."
I feel a longing to get back to expressing myself in B&W, and I hope I will, somehow.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Jim Oleachea: "Back in the late '70s I was shooting primarily B&W. I was living in Newport, Oregon at the time. I was working as a night janitor at the local high school. It was a great gig for several reasons, number one, I had my days to myself up until 3:30 p.m.
"One day the most amazing thing happened. As I was walking down the gravel road to my place, I looked up at the familiar scene in front of me, the road winding down to my house, a grove of alder and fir surrounding the place. I was astonished to 'see' this familiar setting in shades of B&W! I stopped short in order to take this in. This phenomena lasted for several seconds and then slowly all the natural color returned to the scene....
"The only thing I can attribute this vision to is the fact that I had immersed myself in B&W photography with a great passion over the previous several months, living it, breathing it, learning as much as I possibly could...I am curious to know if you or any of your readers have ever experienced anything like this?"
Mike replies: I haven't. I got very good at visualizing in B&W and ignoring color when I was shooting, but I don't think I ever actually saw in B&W. Anybody else?
John Sparks responds to Jim O.: "I've had a similar experience but in reverse.
"I am significantly red/green colorblind. I can see color, even red and green if they are saturated enough, but I don't tend to notice color unless I'm really looking for it and I don't remember color very well either. My wife will ask me to get some product at the market, 'you know, the one in the blue box.' I have no clue what she is talking about. I could never tell you what color shirt someone had been wearing that day.
"With this background, I had a job as an assistant in a architectural photography studio. A big part of my job was making color prints (this was in 1980, so color darkroom prints). As you can imagine, doing color corrections was extremely difficult if not impossible. I could only really make good prints if someone else was around to help with the color correction.
"The color printing did force me to be aware of color in a way I had never been before (or since). After I lost the job (my boss really needed someone who could be alone in the studio making color prints), I took a driving trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was seeing in color for what seemed like the first time in my life. I couldn't believe how green the trees and how blue the sky actually was.
"This experience never happened again."