Thursday, September 15, 2016

Is Colour photography naturally better than old fashioned monochrome ( black and white, mostly)

In the early days of photography this was not a question, monochrome was the only way, but it was not long until hand tinting came along to make the images more 'life-like'. Still and all there have been many great images made that have taken full advantage of black and white. Imagine Edward Weston in colour, or look at the difference between what Ansel Adams was able to achieve in his darkroom versus his uninspired lab-printed colour landscapes. Some of us see the world best in terms of its monochromatic potential.

Colour produces the closest imitation of the original subject matter and we can related easily and unthinkingly to a photograph of it. For many that is the supreme advantage of photography - it shows the world as we see it. Many would judge a painting by the same standards. Art in general then, by this measure, seems at its best to be a replication of reality, except that we have this nagging little thought that this cannot be true. 'We like what we know and know what we like' would seem good, obvious and so democratic, but if so how is it that many photographers refuse to supply simple two dimensional replications with a tool so well suited for doing just that? What are we trying so hard to communicate?

A monochrome photograph is a step away from a faithful rendition. We miss the familiar clues that colour provides. For those who seek a reasonable facsimile of reality however, it is still possible to recognize a subject even though we have to work a little harder. It is the thought that the viewer might benefit in some way from puzzling over an image that takes us closer to the 'art' part of photography. It turns out that we enjoy a visual challenge, take satisfaction from engaging with original forms of perception. We like wandering into new ways of thought. It turns out that behind every image lies an idea, great or small, and that is what we are really engaging with once we get past the original surface presentation.

In this series I have photographed colour images, but through my own personal colour-challenged way of seeing the world. While I do see colour it has no unquestioned pride of place over tone or texture, line or contrast. I like to find subjects that have some pattern or visual challenge and the colour should have a job to do and not simply spread itself lazily around. Whether the scene works best in colour or black and white is open for consideration so I have also created here monochrome versions to explore what works best. For me, one is not automatically better than the other, it depends on how well it communicates.

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