The power of Black-and-White Photography
(The Freeman) - February 28, 2019 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — Most of the photos I like are in black and white. I’ve been thinking about the reasons why black- and-white photography appeals to me.

I’m a big fan of tonal contrast in both color and monochrome work. I use it as the basis of many of my compositions and it helps me create atmosphere and mood.

But when I’d read an interview with Joel Tjintjelaar, a well-known fine art photographer who works exclusively in black-and-white, things clearer to me. Tjintjelaar is one of the leaders in the discipline of long exposure photography (I had interviewed him myself as a case study in my book “Slow”).

In the interview Joel talks about photos representing the vision, or the essence, of the artist rather than reality. Black-and-white, in addition to being a beautiful medium in its own right (he uses words like “mysterious,” “nostalgic” and “dramatic” to explain its appeal) is a step removed from reality. Add in changes in tonal values achieved in post-processing, the surreality of long exposure photography techniques and the manipulation of light (also in post-processing) and you finish with a photo (or a work of art, depending on your world view) that is an expression of the artist, rather than the original subject.

Make sense? There are many ways of expressing yourself creatively in photography, and black- and-white is just one of them, but it certainly is a powerful medium. Trends come and go. Whether it’s the fast film, high grain techniques popularized by Robert Farber and Sarah Moon in the 70s, or the Photoshop-based techniques of modern times such as using texture layers or HDR, most of these are ephemeral. These won’t be remembered as anything more than dated trends in decades to come. But black-and-white will endure. ( - Andrew S. Gibson

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