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Does a black and white photograph have a relationship/connection with the past?

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immo 3
16 Jan 2014 6:30PM
Hi all,

just intrigued to hear your thoughts on black and white photography - wether it has a connection with history? For example when i look at a photograph in black and white, it reminds me of the past, regardless of the subject matter. I wanted to know if others had the same feeling?

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779HOB 5 1.2k United Kingdom
16 Jan 2014 7:05PM
Doesn't make me think of the past unless it's an image taken in the past. I don't know why I like it but I do and I prefer it to color. I've never been able to explain why I like it more.
altitude50 13 9.7k United Kingdom
16 Jan 2014 7:20PM
Could it be because of black and white cinematography? Generally speaking, feature films and documentaries made in b/w have a 'feeling' of a past age and the ones made up to the 1950's and 60's obviously had earlier subjects and characters unless they were 'science fiction'. The mono science fiction ones had a style of their own too (Flash Gordon etc.)!Smile

In the last few days I watched Carol Reed's 'The Third Man', a black and white film, and the lighting and cinematography were of very high quality and quite different from the way a current colour film is lit and shot. (In my opinion.)
KenTaylor Plus
12 3.1k 2 United Kingdom
16 Jan 2014 7:32PM
From the days of its invention B&W photography has been popular despite the days when colour came on the scene. Apart from the digital mono model from Leica, all cameras now start from colour that may influence the concept that B&W is indeed a step backwards.

Its a steep learning curve to be able to see in B&W before you employ the camera from where the post processing takes over that again requires care with the tones, texture and shapes.

The impact a B&W image has relies and concentrates on the texture,tones and shapes removing the distraction of colour.
For most it may well appear to be historic while my experience with those that look at a B&W image is they spend more time viewing it.
sherlob Plus
11 2.9k 129 United Kingdom
16 Jan 2014 7:34PM
No. Neither do i prefer mono over colour or vice versa - albeit for some images i find only one option works. For me B&W (or perhaps more "mono") adds a certain something - but I'm hard pressed to define what that is.
KenTaylor Plus
12 3.1k 2 United Kingdom
16 Jan 2014 7:45PM
Treat yourself to this outstanding classic Night Mail
Jestertheclown 8 7.5k 251 England
16 Jan 2014 7:56PM
Night Mail was shown only recently on one of the cable channels although I've no idea which one.
Given their propensity for repeating everything every few weeks, I'd say there's a good chance that it'll come around again soon.
I recorded it.
KenTaylor Plus
12 3.1k 2 United Kingdom
16 Jan 2014 8:09PM
Part of it is on YouTube
YouTube link
Paul Morgan 16 18.7k 6 England
16 Jan 2014 8:12PM
With BW you see your own colors Smile
16 Jan 2014 8:28PM

Quote:Hi all,

just intrigued to hear your thoughts on black and white photography - wether it has a connection with history? For example when i look at a photograph in black and white, it reminds me of the past, regardless of the subject matter. I wanted to know if others had the same feeling?

Personal associations can be different. Recent scientific research has found that when an average joe looks at black and white photo of say, banana, their brain reacts the same way as to the colour one - i.e adds the colour automatically. However, emotional perception is not as simple as trivial recognition and for me photos in black and white may trigger some nostalgic feelings more often than not.

Technically B&W images are as much thing of the future as artefact of the past. Some of them are distinctively modern simply because their subjects did not exist in the era dominated by B&W film.

Practically every modern digital camera has B&W mode. And the latest B&W digital camera from Leica is no accident, but careful probing of the ground. We'll see what follows...
Just like to say that I like B&W in city shots, some portrait, but find colour great with wildlife, insects and landscapes. The lists for both are huge.
One of my favourite photographers Jimmy Forsyth from Newcastle upon Tyne (R.I.P.) His book "Out of one eye" is fantastic. A lot of his shots would definitely get you into trouble with law agencies of today.
I really like looking at the old B&W photo's of my birthplace, the old cars and little trucks oh and not to forget the railway stock.
I wonder if photo's taken today in colour will have the same impact of future viewers as the photo's of yesteryear do.
Can't stop progress though.
dark_lord Plus
13 2.0k 436 England
16 Jan 2014 10:53PM
You could add 'faded colour' to that 'connection'.
To me, mono works for some images, others not. There are some great mono images around today, especially in advertising, think of Audi for example.
Some of today's music videos (possible mis-match with epz's demographic GrinGrinGrin) are shot in mono and look good but aren't connected to the past.
Conversely there are rubbish photos from the past that are in mono 'cos that's what was the main medium.
BTW Phase One produce a mono only digital back for fine art mono photography.
17 Jan 2014 12:00AM
Some images will only work in colour; a red postbox in front of a green hedge, for instance. Although red and green are opposite on the colour wheel, tonally they can be very close, so b&w probably wouldn't work, as it needs tonal variation. Black and white is very much about tone and texture.
Conversely, colour can sometimes detract from an image simply by being unattractive in some way, or it can be a distraction, an unnecessary visual complication.
It's generally felt that monochrome allows for greater flexibility/freedom in the response of a photographer to the subject. It allows for a more personal expression, which is what "Fine Art" means ( photographically, that is; it means something different to a painter ). I often find with my own images that monochrome conveys more of how I felt about the subject. It's less literal, more subjective.
Some would say that colour tends to deal with the Facts, whereas black and white deals with the Truth.
jemraid Plus
12 58 England
1 Feb 2014 2:21PM
My present preoccupation with digital montage is influenced by photographers in the past; Annie Brigman and her self imaging in the first decade of the 20th century and Imogen Cunningham's photographs of Roi Partridge on Mt Rainier from 1915. Minor Whites dramatic and very personal images from the 1950's and 60's. All in B&W and in my mind not so much as B&W specifically but just as images to refer to.

B&W can simplify an image, making it easier to 'read' but so can a colour image with a limited palette. The tools to do this have been in Photoshop for 20 years or so, I don't see that many practitioners about though. To give an example of what I mean I offer this colour image;



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