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Saturday, 03 November 2012


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Being ante-antediluvian (~1948), I started in B&W of necessity-color being both harder to come by and very expensive. Later, I even carried two film cameras, one color and one B&W, but it was a zoo when I needed to change lenses, etc. quickly. Finally, I went to transparency film, and did B&W internegs in the darkroom. Worked well as long as I had a darkroom. Without that it was back to two cameras. Now I am almost all digital, and shoot everything in color. But for those images that should be in B&W, Photoshop gives me even more control than filtered transparency internegs did. I love it. The point is: For me, the image determines whether color or B&W is the best choice. In some cases, color is important to the impact, in others it is a distraction. In some cases, I can even create very different versions in color and B&W, which both work. Let the image content decide.

So, three posts ....
(I may be selling all my cameras)+(I was trying out a new camera)+(I always liked black and white best) = Leica Monochrome

You know Leitz made it for you!

sell 'em all, pick up a leica monochrom!

From the comments on your Single Use Device for sale post:

"I suspect that Mike is contemplating selling all his cameras... in order to purchase (or rationalize the purchase of) another, very expensive camera...For me, that camera is the new Leica M-nothing..."


You guessed it. Different camera, though.


And from this post:

"...I feel a longing to get back to expressing myself in B&W, and I hope I will, somehow."

So, Mike, are you holding out on us about the imminent availability of another B&W digital camera beyond the Leica? :-)

I am glad, that you have finally let the cat out of the bag... Remember what I wrote about simplicity and a Rolleiflex... This is a somewhat golden compromise, if you still intend to use the darkroom. BTW, as a TOP reader, I would like to find out one day, what kind of photography you like to do most.

May I suggest a year with a Leica Monochrom?

My take-away from this odd piece, and its immediate predecessors: You're saving/raising funds to buy the Leica M Monochrome.

I just figured it out. Mike is buying a Leica M Monochrom.

When I started getting serious about photography, Ernst Haas was my hero along with Pete Turner and Elliot Porter. But I had attended the Adams workshops and had a strong liking for the pure tonality of B&W. Both mediums have their expressions and the way you see really defines how you go about making images. When I'm in Yosemite I find my best results rendering all that granite in B&W. When I'm in a market in Guatemala, I see color like there's no tomorrow. For me the tail doesn't wag the dog; what I see and where I see it rules the day.

I suppose it's a largely personal thing, so I apply the following only to myself.

My mind sees black and white images as abstracts, a step removed from real life. Also, perhaps, there is some semiotic evocation of a lost past which disconnects me temporally as well as emotionally.

In some cases I agree it works spectacularly well, in particular for deliberate art works. I spent enough time drawing and using charcoals in school to appreciate form and tone and it's essential to understand that, even if you work in color.

But human beings are highly attuned to color referents on an emotional level. For me, black and white has a limited emotional vocabulary, downbeat and melancholic, like a rainy day. Every film is film noir. Used for effect it is simply fake.

Sometimes it is as brooding and powerful as a storm cloud, but just as often it is like a grey drizzle, anesthetizing me to the real horror or exuberance of the situation.

When I see an exhibition of hundreds of B&W prints hung together they become a morass of shades and tones. I cannot distinguish between them because the mood is as monochromatic as the images. With color, each shot stands out and is distinct from all the ones around it - each splash of color adds an emotional switch that triggers something different in my subconscious.

That people often forget tonality in color prints is, however, undoubtedly true. Far too many color prints have flat tonality that leaves me cold. Too many people obsess about "recovering" shadow detail but should move the shadows slider the other way.

But when tonality and even a touch of color are combined, the effect, for me is electrifying, for instance:


Typical Haas, full of dark sinister tones, but without the hints of color, totally uninteresting.

I love black and white. I grew up on it, from the first time I developed film and printed it myself in the home darkroom, starting around 1969. For maybe fifteen years I shot exclusively in B&W, mostly Tri-X 400, and not once did I wish for color.

And then at some point I started sending my film away for developing and printing, and I found cheap color film, and I began to learn how to see in color. At some point I left B&W behind.

Today, I can no longer see in black and white. I've tried to shoot in B&W, or to convert some favorite images to B&W, but I fail. And sometimes I miss it. I see gorgeous B&W work by others and I'm envious.

I don't have the slightest wish that any of my earliest images were in color. None of them would be improved. But I do wish I'd kept some ability to see a B&W scene in front of me when it's there for the taking.

"I feel a longing to get back to expressing myself in B&W, and I hope I will, somehow."

They still make black & white film, Mike, and cameras to shoot it in.

For 30 years I thought I was a black and white photographer. In retrospect it was all a control thing.

Once I had to give up my darkroom and stop making my own prints I began to appreciate color, first through Polaroid (peel-apart and SX-70) and later through digital.

Now that the computer gives me as much control over color as I had with black and white in the darkroom I rarely have a desire to do black and white. There are a few areas, figure work and some portraits, where I prefer the more abstract feel of B&W, but for almost everything else it is color.

Amazingly I was also in Newport in the 70s, left in '80. I came as a dedicated B&W shooter, 4x5, rocks and trees, etc. Had spent a long time learning to 'see' in B&W on that ground glass. Can't say I actually saw in B&W, but just wasn't aware of color, saw the tones. Never w/o the ground glass tho. Took a walk on the beach one day with a local photographer I'd met who shot only color slide, never been in a dark room, etc. Something happened and I started seeing color and lost my B&W 'vision'. Weird. (Jim, that was Scott Blackman, you must have known him) Can't say we ever met tho.

I was trained as a textile colorist. I cannot imagine using color for my art.

First, black and white is my preferred combination of 1) a right-angles-to-reality view of the world and 2) something that is comfortably familiar through the history of the medium.

Second, many color processes rely upon chemicals whose lightfastness I measured in hours (and not many of them, either). Pigments are a little better than dyes, but they still make for a fragile work.

Third, I remember what Man Ray said about photographs of paintings: painters often liked his (black and white) photographs better than the originals.

[& I predict that Mike will find his RX1 limiting, and he'll need a complementary short tele option.]

I am horribly colorblind. I can distinguish blue and yellow, most everything else is one of those or some sort of brown. The upside is I'm pretty good with contrast and shades of gray :-) So put me in the b&w column.

What resonated with me though, Mike, was the comment "that people liked my color work a lot better than they liked my B&W work. But I didn't." Back in my Minolta and Nikon film days, I always shot B&W and printed in the darkroom. Since digital, there's less printing and my color-seeing family ALWAYS likes the color versions of my work more than the B&W interpretations, *but I don't*!

This post has made me think, and I'm now planning on biting the bullet, setting my EVF (sony & fuji) cameras to B&W jpeg, and telling the family they don't really shoot color!

Good luck with the Leica Monochrome ;-)

I began taking photos in B&W when I was eleven years old and continued for 20 years. After maybe 10 years I could easily visualize how a photo would turn out in B&W and what difference yellow, orange, and red filters would make.

When I finally switched to color it took me many years to understand how color affected the composition and balance of a photo. I'm still struggling with that.

For the first 35 years or so, I went back and forth between black and white and color transparency film. Either I'm fickle or I just loved shooting both. When digital started to dominate, color was native and black and white was a process of manipulating the native image. Color just seemed the natural way to go. Today, I realize how important the color element eventually became to my pictures. Without color, they don't work at all.

David Batchelor's book, Chromophobia makes a very interesting read if the black and white vs. color debate matters to you. He argues that our culture frequently works to marginalize color by associating it with lower classes, or the vernacular, or the feminine, etc. You might be able to find excerpts online, but here's the Amazon link:

"Walker Evans, actually said, in print, that color photography is vulgar."

and that's supposed to be a bad thing ?

and then he switched to using a SX-70
(which in my humble opinion were not nearly vulgar enough but)

In the past, It was part of my profession to take photographs of commercial properties being considered by insurance underwriters. By chance, I discovered B&W images better conveyed the true essence or poorly maintained properties than color images. I clearly remember looking at color photographs and thinking: "Man, that place looked a lot worse than this."

To this day I have been mystified by B&W photography. In truth, although I pretend I am serious about photography, I am, truly, a snap-shooter that just gets lucky on some occasions. I have shot both color and B&W photos; any and all photos that bring me any pride are in B&W. Although I cannot claim to have ever been able to visualize in B&W, I can see where that capacity would be a tremendous advantage.

When I see great color photographs, It seems the fascination created always has to do with composition or originality of external aspect; great B&W photos seem to make me contemplate the nature of things in ways I have not considered and/or cannot explain.

As chief photographer at a medium sized daily newspaper from the mid-1970's to the mid 1980's, I literally lived black and white photography for 11 years.

I was at the point where I practically saw everything in black and white and had to force myself to see things in color.

When I resigned in 1987 to freelance, it took me a couple of years to fully see photographs in color.

In a wet darkroom, I could knock out excellent black and white prints pretty expediciously, and was known, at least locally, as a very good black and white printer.

I love, love,love digital photography and don't miss the darkroom at all.

...but I think it's a lot harder to produce a great black and white print digitally than it was to do so in the darkroom.

"...but I think it's a lot harder to produce a great black and white print digitally than it was to do so in the darkroom."

I agree. Most inkjet printers are not up to the task.

But I also think it's harder to shoot in color than black and white. It's like having a third dimension to consider.

Perhaps I am a tonal colorist. What I felt uncomfortable about with colorist painters was the lack of contrast. What I find lacking in black and white photographs is the flush of living reality.

Cinematographers seem to have this completely under control, more than photographers I think. When they actually take photographs the consummate control of light AND color gives you the best of both, exemplified by one of Mike's previous links....


Perhaps all color photographers should practice with B&W to understand how light and shadow can add dimensionality to a 2D image.

I have been reading the various articles here on black and white versus color and M.J.'s own thoughts about black and white with the Nikon D800E.

I first started shooting black and white as a teenager, I even had a little darkroom in my parent's home, when I started working for my first weekly newspaper , the Goldstream Gazette on Vancouver Island, of course everything was black and white, I quite liked shooting black and white, although I may not have realized it back then. Funny I used to love shooting Kodachrome on my days off and holidays and did this for quite a few years. Sometime around the early 1980's when I was working in Brampton Ontario at a small daily, The Brampton Daily Times, I switched to shooting black and white on my time off, I left the Kodachrome years behind, at that point I was not shooting large format as I am today, I had a couple Leica's M2 and an M3.

When I moved to Kelowna BC in 1983 and started with the Daily Courier where I am now employed ( thankfully I must add ) we still mostly published our daily pictures in black and white up until 1990, I printed my day's work with a real enlarger. By the 1990's, I shot color negatives and scanned those, good bye black and white darkroom, the paper had a Wing Lynch machine for processing color film. For my personal work I was shooting mostly large format black and white and some medium format black and white, some people might think this is odd, but I have used pretty well one lens for the majority of my 4 x 5 work, I bough a 120mm Schneider lens in 1986, that recently fell apart ( literally ) just a month a go, bought another one.

Since 2001 I have been shooting digital at my paper, back then we bought, Nikon D1H's, it was love at first sight when that camera arrived in the photo department ( Hooray,no film to process ! ) for my personal work I have stayed on with my large format and medium format film cameras, although in 2004 I switched to digital printing only because I felt I this hybrid system was the best of both worlds, scan my large format film and print via inkjet, my "darkroom" was now photoshop on my computer.

Often I get lots of "advice" from other photographers wondering when am I ever going to give up on those outdated and clunky film cameras and get with the times, "go digital" as they say. I love black and white and I have not found a capturing device so far that is better than film, something that is reasonably priced that I can afford ( the Leica Monochrom is out unless I win the lottery ). I once had a Nikon D90, great camera, but I didn't think it was even close to the large format film images I was making. Its really hard to explain, I have been called a "Filmer" , "Dinosaur" and I know that there are photographers out there making some incredible black and white art with their digital cameras, but I am still stuck in the past. Mike, I am very interested in seeing how your journey goes with the Nikon D800E will go, I will read with great interest of any reports that you publish on your TOP site.

Sorry about the long winded and wordy ramble and I'm not sure if anything makes any sense, I am still trying to figure out the whole black and white film/digital thing myself.

Started photography with B&W because it was what I could afford and process myself. I was a B&W photographer in the Army because that was what the Army did. It was all 4x5 B&W. I don't recall that we even stocked any color film. When i went to art school I learned that I (mostly) liked drawings better than the paintings made from drawing. The drawings always seemed more intimate, they cut to the chase, conveying what the artist had to say about the subject without getting distracted by details and bright shiny colors.

I shoot color now but I still go back frequently to B&W for its simplicity.

I started in photography with cheap c41 colour film and a Nikkormat EL. However once I became interested in the "art" of photography I began to shoot b&w. I find that my mind alters depends on what I am shooting, If I am walking around with Velvia then I am seeing in technicolour. Conversely if I am walking around with a some Tmax in the Rolleiflex then it's tones, shapes, shadow and form that I notice.

It's not completely subconscious. You need to force yourself to think that way, its hard when you start out but gets easier the longer you've been doing it.

I find that if I set out to shoot B&W, with a B&W workflow from camera on - RAW in colour, of course, but converting straight away - and stick to that workflow for a while, my ability to "see" in B&W improves over time. But I expect an awful lot of practice would be required to make things perfect. Or maybe that monochrom so I have no choice...

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