Black & White or Color – Why I chose color.

We can’t look backward to see the future” (Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art)

Even today many photographers, many gallery owners and museum directors consider black and white images to be the only true fine art photography. These images have an inherent mysticism to them simply because they have been drained of color. They evoke feelings of the unknown while at the same time showing images of what is often well known. Because they lack color, the lines in the image are clearer, they stand out and appear to have an added sense of whatever feeling the scene would normally evoke. Black and white images also provide starkness and hardness, they evoke fear and concern for ourselves and others. A color photograph, however, usually softens a scene and makes it easier to distance our self from the emotions of the scene, with a few exceptions like blood in the street or brilliant sunsets. This is why it is much more difficult to produce dramatic color images using only the camera.

Historically, photography developed from black and white to poor color to color that readily represents the colors we find in nature. To me, black and white photography is an anachronism of our time and represents the past, not the future of fine art photography. The fact that black and white photographs are almost automatically considered fine art is a result of great photographers using the only tools they had available to them, or because, like Ansel Adams, they liked to develop and manipulate their images themselves in the darkroom which is very hard and expensive to do with color film. It is interesting to note that only in photography are black and white images considered fine art. In the other fine arts, black and white is used for planning and drawing potential fine art pieces, not as a final work and I wonder why so many photographers continue to make black and white photographs. I understand that in the early days of photography, photographers didn’t have much choice since making color photographs was very unreliable.

When I got my first camera in the mid-50s, color film was just gaining wide usage in the consumer marketplace even though mass-produced color film had been available for twenty years. At that time, I was only interested in taking pictures of events that were happening around the farm I was growing up on and of the hiking and camping trips I was making around New England.

One of the first things I learned was that it was expensive to get my pictures developed. I first looked into developing my color film and soon found that it was much too complicated to do in the home environment. The only option I was presented was to move to black and white film, which I could develop at home. Although this was initially appealing. I soon found that I did not like being closed in a darkroom for extended periods of time. Not only that, I had no place at home to do such work, so I looked further into color film and found that I could take three times as many color slides as I could color prints for the same price. This led to the decision to focus on color photography and carried me through to the digital age, except for one step backward during graduate school. During that time I was working for a person whose hobby was black and white photography and he got me into his darkroom for a day. A day was all I needed to reinforce my decision that darkroom work was not for me, and that black and white photography seemed to have more drawbacks than benefits for me. That was my last foray into black and white photography.

Since that time I have also become convinced that color photography is the only medium that comes close to showing the beauty that nature has put in front of us. I only produce color photographs and other colorful images because I have also come to believe “color is the basis of beauty” and color found in the natural world is the most beautiful of all.

RAU revised 07/15/11

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