Why Black and White Photography?

September 24, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Irene's Way, 2012Irene's Way, 2012

Viewers of my photographs sometimes ask why I work in black & white more often than color. So let me offer an answer.

Black and white photography is abstraction. It relies on tonality, texture, and line to direct the viewer to what is essential in what is photographed. In suspending color, it asks something of the viewer. It asks you to work at seeing.

Black and white photography was born of necessity. It was the only medium available for the first hundred years after the first photograph was made in the late 1830's.  But what was born of necessity has now become a choice for many photographers, myself included.

The choice to work in the black and white tradition is not unlike the choice of the poet who chooses to write poetry in the inherited forms of a haiku or sonnet when free verse is readily available.  Like the haiku or sonnet, black and white photography brings a set of rules and formal structures that must govern the visual poetics of a picture. The photographer, like the poet, must embrace these rules and formal structures and regard them not as restrictions on creativity but as necessary conditions for it.

Black and white photography takes us back to elemental things. It invites the viewer to see the beauty of the weathered texture of the sunlit surfaces, the sculpturesque lines of the keel, and the elegant curves of the mooring ropes of a simple fishing boat.

Black and white photography is also a declaration that the photograph is an interpretation rather than a mere duplication of the world in front of the camera. Yet in its falsification, it speaks its own truth about the world.

I photograph in black and white because I want to see the world as it really is.


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