Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Appeal of Black and White Photography

By Christina VanGinkel
I do not know what it truly is, but there is something, some element, about black and white photography that makes me stop in my tracks and really look. They can be newly developed prints, fresh off a roll, converted digitally, or they could be a box of old photos discovered hidden away at an estate sale. Any of these black and whites photo options would appeal to me.

The figures in the photos seem to be held within the confines of the paper almost by magic. Color film can also be engaging, but to me, never quite in the same way that so touches whatever it is inside of me that make me stop and stare at black and white prints.

Not a photography expert by any stretch of the imagination, I can still tell you what it is somewhat that I so like about black and white. Life is busy, and part of that busyness is the colors that surround everything we do. The fabric of our clothes, the color car we drive, the patterns of light green grass, with dark green leaves, beneath a blue sky. Do not get me wrong. Color is good. I love color. I love the snapshots that show the blue of my grandson’s eyes and his rosy red cheeks. I love the photos of my young son all decked out in his Kawasaki greens flying over a jump. I also am drawn into the shadows, the contrasts of light and dark, the lines, the curves, the details that seem to jump off the picture that is printed in black and white.

Ansel Adams, born in 1902, created a life of photography up until his death in 1984. A commercial photographer by trade, he took what I believe to be the most stunning landscapes photos ever captured on film. He also photographed everything from a still life to whatever happened to catch his eye. One photograph of a Leaf, taken in Alaska in 1948 is a perfect example of what is so captivating about the possibilities of black and white photography. I have seen many a photo of leaves, but none has ever reached out to me like the single leaf central to this photo.

Long before I even knew his name, I knew I loved his pictures. My niece had a book of his work that she shared with me probably ten years or so after I saw his first photo. Once I had a name to put to the few prints I had discovered, I was able to search out even more of his work, and after that, all I can say is I was addicted. To say that I would not miss color would be a lie, but a life in black and white if it could be viewed through the eyes of this most talented photographer would not be a bad thing!

If you have never tried black and white photography, give it a try. It is the only way that you can discover for yourself if you think it might be something you like. If you use a digital camera, it most likely comes with a black and white setting, or otherwise you can always use a photo editing software package to convert literally any color photo to black and white. One of my favorite examples that I always show to people who ask me why I love black and white film so much is actually a close-up of my grandson. Now anyone who has ever heard me go on about him, knows he has the biggest blue eyes a child could be gifted with, so for me to remove the color from those baby blues, even electronically through the world of computers and software, might seem sacrilegious! However, that is exactly what I have done. In addition, everyone who sees the photo, first in its original color form, and after, in black and white, instantly gets it. They understand how black and white can be so persuasive a sell when it comes to photography. His eyes speak from their very depths, minus the distraction of color, to appear as if an angel or some other innocent creature lies behind them. Be warned though, that if you take a few rolls in black and white, or tinker in a software package with some of your digital images, you might notice that color is missing for a very long time!

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