Why Black & White

There is directness in a black and white image that is always more immediate than in it’s colour equivalent. The very lack of colour (the viewer is not seduced by the colour) means that form, line and contrast become more apparent… and therefore somehow the

very essence of the subject matter is more powerfully revealed. A good example of this is if one compares Vincent Van Gogh’s early drawings to his later paintings - the drawings are just as immensely striking as his later amazing paintings. In short an unavoidable truth and integrity is what you get with black and white photography... and that's why I like it.

I have always, and still do, shoot black-and-white photographs on film. Why film? Why not digital? There is a simple answer… somehow film looks better. This is a difficult statement to qualify, but, to my mind there is no doubt that there is an earthy and life like quality with film that seems to be sadly lacking in the digital domain. In the same way that an analogue vinyl record can sound much better than digitally recorded music, there is a real difference between analogue and digital black and white photography. (In colour however this is a very different story).

For starters with black and white the actual image making process when shooting film is completely different. In fact the entire process from actually taking the photograph to the finished photograph in the darkroom is, I emphasise, a totally different experience. The analog experience is much more intuitive (and even seemingly magical), than the electro digital way.

When shooting film one often senses and waits for the 'decisive moment’ as Henri Cartie-Bresson described it, whereas shooting digital encourages one to blaze away and take maybe 25 shots in motor drive - when with film one might have only taken one or two. If you have used a digital camera it then means you have to take the photograph a second time… because it means selecting one shot from very many exposures… of course that can also mean a successful photograph, but the whole digital process is far more removed from the 'in the moment' film shot.

Then film has a wonderful thing called grain… and of course Photoshop can replicate grain… but it is still aping an original look, rather than originating. (Rather like the modern sports car that will transmit the exhaust note from the engine through the stereo system… not the same thing at all.)

In the darkroom it is almost impossible to make two identical prints from the same negative if there is a great deal of burning and dodging (adding and subtracting light) to be done. This is because you are literally manually and somewhat intuitively adjusting the image as it is exposed and then as it develops… as it gradually appears magically in the developing tray before your eyes in the dim of the darkroom safe lights!

In the final analysis it is actually the inexactness, the impreciseness and randomness of the film process that makes it so original, unique and exciting.

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