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  • Betty Girardeau

Nothing Is Simply Black And White


Photography began in black and white. So did television. But most people like to see their pictures and their television in color because that is how they daily see the world. For really serious art photographers there still remains the argument of which is better, color or black and white. Famous black and white photographer Henri Carter-Bresson even quipped that "color is bullshit," adding that “Color negates all of photography’s three-dimensional values.” Today for most of us, color is the standard in photography and in an article by Lars Mensel on the subject of this black and white vs color debate, he contends that really there should be no debate at all. He writes, "While black and white had turned the mundane artistic, the pioneering color photos were successful exactly because they were mundane: They alerted the general public to the hidden beauty in everyday life." I tend to agree with him. But I think there are times when black and white is preferable for an image. The one above is a perfect example. From the very first time I was in the Smokies at dawn I wanted to capture an image that showed off the layers of these hills and mountains in the best possible way. I finally got this one in the fall of 2015. It's a lovely picture in color. But when reduced to black and white I think that it is more striking because, without color, forms, contrasts, and shapes have been emphasized, it has become multi-dimensional. As a result, the viewer hopefully sees the timeless quality of these hills and mountains. Interestingly, there is practically no true white or black in this image. It is comprised of many varying shades of gray, and those shades are the real power of this picture. As much as some people like to reduce societal and political issues to black and white, I think it is wrong for them to do so. Early in my photography post processing training I ran across some advice that I think has meaning in life as well. What I read was that to test the quality of a color image, you should reduce it to black and white first so that you can more easily see all the nuances of the image. After doing that, you can then revert it to color to complete your processing. Color can blind us to what is really there. And that can be just as true in life. Look for and embrace all the shades of grey because they are just as important to the quality of life for everyone as they are in a simple photograph.


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