The arrival of colour in the film industry in the 1940s signalled the death knell for black and white motion pictures, but the same can’t be said for the photographic industry where monochrome continues to thrive. I can’t work out why.
There are a few limited reasons why I would choose to deliberately shoot in monochrome over colour. The first is for images which are starkly contrasted or patterned, and the second is to convey a by-gone era. But I live in a world which is spectacular in the depth, breadth, vibrancy and wonder of its colour and not conveying that in my photography would feel almost sacrilegious to me. When I view monochrome images my soul yearns to see the original picture in all its technicoloured glory and I just want to ask one question……………..why?!
I have, on rare occasions, converted an image to monochrome but only because it has failed as a colour picture. Stripping the colour from photographs with busy backgrounds can help the main subject stand out, and sometimes it’s impossible to rid a picture of a colour cast. But bare in mind these are failed images and not an artistic or deliberate choice.
Three fundamental technical aspects of a successful image are composition, lighting and colour. Not having to think about tonal range, balance, harmony and the importance of colour in storytelling feels like a fundamental part of the picture is missing. I particularly can’t get my head around black and white documentary photography. We live in a world made entirely of colour, so to document in shades of grey doesn’t feel authentic to me.
Photography is all about expression of our inner self and if someone’s inner self is devoid of colour then they of course have a right to express that. What I don’t understand is the general photography world’s continued emphasis on monochrome images in the modern digital age. A hundred years ago we shot in black and white because we had no choice, but I’m fairly sure if photographers in the 1800s had access to colour using it would have been a no brainer.
Like much in the art world, I personally think the continued use of monochrome photographs comes down to The Emperor’s Clothes. Some pretentious critic has, at some time in the past, said that black and white photography is valid and now no-one has the courage to say that for the most part it’s irrelevant and out-dated, just like black and white films are irrelevant and out-dated. There will always be a niche market for certain types of monochrome image, but for the most part I can’t for the life of me work out why black and white photographs are still emphasized so strongly. Probably not a populist view, but an honest one.