The Dichotomy Between Black and White, and Colour Photography… Preview of Chapter 2

Joel Meyerowitz, William Eggleston and Stephen Shore are commonly known as the godfathers, or masters of colour documentary photography – (Houkgallery.com, 2010) ‘Colour was identified with commerce, with manipulative advertising and crowd-pleasing stories about the stars in popular magazines. The colour picture was too close to reality. Where were the personal vision, the transformation, and the art? Serious photographers shot and interpreted the world in black and white. According to the well-worn narrative, all this began to change in the 1970s with the “new colour photography” of American photographers like William Eggleston, Stephen Shore and Joel Meyerowitz’ – (Poynor, R., 2012)

Meyerowitz is an award winning street photographer and, ‘was instrumental in changing the attitude toward the use of colour photography from one of resistance to nearly universal acceptance.’ – (Meyerowitz, J. (2014).

In the presentation of these two photographs, he makes apparent his deliberation between black and white, and colour, ‘In the middle ‘60s, around 66, I started carrying two Leicas – black and white and colour. Whenever I had the opportunity to make an interesting photograph, if there was enough time in what was happening, I would make a second picture similar to it in black and white or colour so that I could then compare them.’ – (Meyerowitz, J. 2012)

A Question of Colour. Florida. 1967. Joel Meyerowitz

A Question of Colour. Florida. 1967. Joel Meyerowitz

In this scene, a middle aged overweight gentleman is stood hunched in an isolated area enjoying the view and the weather, He seems to have no awareness or regard towards the blimp, as he could possibly be in a meditative state, in deep thought, or is simply accustomed to the sight of it. The fact that Meyerowitz has chosen to frame the blimp and the gentleman in the same image could be taken as a symbolic cue towards the possible accumulation of thoughts, perhaps it has indeed been a ‘good year’ for this man on his holiday.

A more discreet symbolic cue could be the positioning of his contradictory slim shadow which is cast over a parasol pole stand in a comical way, telling us that he could be thinking about when he was in his prime, and the hard work that he has gone through in order to get to this moment in his life, and that he feels young and invigorated. We don’t lose these contextual interpretations in either the colour or the black and white images; however, tone changes.

In colour, the atmosphere seems more suited towards a summer holiday, but in black and white, I feel that the gentleman takes on a more elite role, as though he owns a large business and the space he is standing in. It is components like this that at first seem minor, but could affect a photograph’s meaning entirely.

St. Louis, Missouri. 1978. Joel Meyerowitz

St. Louis, Missouri. 1978. Joel Meyerowitz

This photograph doesn’t have a monochromatic counterpart, but it does conjure mixed thoughts regarding how I feel about the use of colour. I like this photograph mainly for its composition: the game of baseball taking place with spectators forgetting about the outside world which we can see peaking over the top of the stadium, carrying on with everyday life.

I like the horizontal structure of the slightly muted blue, red and green, as they give depth and make the layers of foreground, mid-ground and background more apparent, yet from this photograph, I can understand criticisms of less muted colour, ‘Colour film’s exaggeration of subject hue and the concurrent difficulty of formally organizing the visible world’s raucous colour combinations gave the medium an aura of vulgarity.’ – (Eauclaire, S. 1981) If this image were more saturated, I would agree with black and white photographer, Walker Evans, who, ‘deemed colour a “vulgar” medium and stated that many ‘colour photographers confuse colour with noise’ and that they ‘blow you down with screeching hues alone…a bebop of electric blues, furious reds and poison greens.’ – (ibid.)

Joel Meyerowitz Photos – Comparing Black and White to Colour

Before viewing, a quick caution that the last image shown is of the fire brigade and NYPD on a rescue mission in the aftermath of 9/11, which may cause upset to some people.

Here, I have edited some colour photographs Meyerowitz took (Apart from one, where he took the black and white version as well) to see what they would be like in Black and White in order to give a more precise critique.

A Question of Colour. Florida. 1967. Joel Meyerowitz

A Question of Colour. Florida. 1967. Joel Meyerowitz

Personal Communication: E-mail Q&A with Nick Didlick

Nick Didlick and his team helped the Vancouver Sun to become the world’s newspaper to use all digital photographs.

Q) Is there a distinct time or place where you remember the actual transition from black and white photography to colour in the newspaper you were working for, or with other newspapers?

A) ‘Newspapers were B+W and in the 50’s had colour and then went back to B+W because of time and costs in production. It wasn’t until the mid 70’s we saw newspapers printing colour in new on a regular basis (there was some preprinted colour ad sections of course before this). If I had to pick a time for regular colour in newspapers world wide it would be late 70’s early 80’s.’

Q) How did you first feel about the use of colour in documentary photography/photojournalism, has your opinion changed?

A) ‘I have always been one to push the boundaries of visual media and technology so I loved it. Has my opinion changed no, its moved on to other forms of visual reporting.’

Q) Do you feel that black and white photography still has a viable place within a world where colour is now so easily produced?

A) ‘There has been a pile of research on this but from my point of view colour wasn’t really a big deal as a photojournalist generally. It was eye candy for sure but the affect this had on readers was mostly on the news side of colour photography. Colour photography definitely had more impact on readers, grief stricken people, blood and accident scenes would be especially difficult for some readers. It was like in B+W there was still a step of removal for the reader to picture, with colour that step was removed emotionally. Now we are just used to it.’

Q) If you could give your 21 year old self advice, what would it be?

A) ‘Advice ha.
I would look to diverse your skills pool, we are moving fast to non-print forms of journalism and it is quite possible in your lifetime there will be no more newspapers and magazines.
You should have camera skills (both still and video), audio skills, post production skills in still, video and audio and including web development.
You should understand how to write and build a story for production in print, video and audio.
You should understand how people will consume journalist content 2 years from now and plan for that.
You should take any courses you can (or practical experience) in the above and add marketing and business courses was well.’

Personal Communication: E-mail Q&A with Jim McGarvey (inventor of the DSLR)

I carefully decided to ask more technology based questions at the beginning in order to engage better with Mr. McGarvey, and then progress onto questions which had more relevance to my essay. Rather than asking a clichéd question that would attempt to gain some advice for myself, I decided to end in a more creative, engaging and fun way.
Q: In photography, do you feel that we have approached the pinnacle of technology, or have we only just scraped the surface?
A: Lots of room for further progress. Full frame DSLR image quality is near perfect, but that performance could be a lot cheaper and smaller someday. Very low light, light field cameras, HDR, and who knows what else will extend the space in which good images can be made.
Q: Has the photography and documentary/photojournalist industry lost its exclusivity due to more easily accessible technology, and does this make it easier or harder for a prospective professional photographer to break into the industry?
A: Yes, yes and yes. It’s not exclusive. It’s easy for more people to make technically good images and to access a huge audience, but that means it’s harder to get noticed. The really good artist still stands out. It may be easier to become a low end pro, but harder to make a living at that, since anyone can do that kind of photography.
Q: Which do you personally feel has more impact, colour or black and white images? And for what reason?
A: Depends on subject. I love B&W for people and vintage scenes. I love color for landscapes and product shots. It depends on what you want the viewer to notice.
Q: Which do you prefer to shoot in, colour or black and white?
A: See # 3.
Q: If you could give your 21 year old self advice, what would it be?
A: “You have something to give to every person. Every person has something to give to you.” and “When you build a camera, save some images from it!”

The Dichotomy Between Black and White, and Colour Photography… Preview of Chapter 1

Black and white photography is the capturing of light through an opening, whether it is a pinhole or a lens, onto a light sensitive surface, that is later processed using a number of different chemicals which produce a monochromatic image.

In 1826, the first permanent photograph was made by French inventor, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. It depicts a window view of the landscape and parts of buildings surrounding his home.

Niépce - ‘View from the window at le gras’. 1826

Niépce – ‘View from the window at le gras’. 1826

Following this scientific breakthrough, two main inventions within the development of photographic methods took place; the Daguerreotype process being the first publicly announced photographic technique created by French artist and photographer Louis Daguerre in 1839, by which a highly polished silver coated copper plate is covered with light sensitive chemicals, exposed to a scene through a camera and then processed in a dark room; and the Calotype or Talbotype process created by English inventor and photographer, William Henry Fox Talbot in 1841; the first to produce a semitransparent negative from which multiple prints could be made. This is when the processes that we use to this day in film photography, of developing, fixing/stopping and printing were created.

In 1861, some 35 years after the first ever permanent photograph was made, Scottish mathematical physicist, James Clerk Maxwell found a way to introduce colour to a photograph, ‘He suggested that if three colourless photographs of the same scene were taken through red, green and blue filters, and transparencies made from them were projected through the same filters and superimposed on a screen, the result would be an image reproducing all the colours in the original scene.’ (Kcl.ac.uk, 2011)

Maxwell – ‘Tartan Ribbon’. 1861

Maxwell – ‘Tartan Ribbon’. 1861

The problem with this method though, was that in order to achieve a single colour photograph, three monochrome photographs had to be made, meaning that taking pictures of moving subjects, people or animals was incredibly difficult.

For the following decade it seemed that there was a race between many physicists and photographers to be able to produce a colour photograph in one shot. The dye sensitization discovered by German photochemist Hermann Wilhelm Vogel made ‘emulsions more colour-sensitive through the use of dyes’ (Hirsch, 2010. p.17) yet soon after, Louis Ducos de Hauron, French physicist, inventor and photographer, ‘was the first to describe a ‘one shot’ camera, or ‘photochromscope’ with mirrors with which all three separation negatives could be exposed’ (Gernsheim, 1952. p. 2).

In 1907, the Lumière brothers released the first commercially available colour film which incorporated microscopic potato starch grains that were dyed red, green and blue in order to filter the different coloured spectrums of light. However, ‘successful exposures were especially difficult to make given the inherently slow speed of the autochrome.’ (Lavédrine et al., 2013. p. 100).

Circa 1935, a three layered emulsion coating on a film support was devised by two American musicians, Leopold Godowsky and Leopold Mannes, and was released to the public as Kodachrome.

Primary Research – Malham Cove

The ones I prefer in Black and White:

 

 

 

The ones I prefer in Colour:

 

 

The other versions of the photographs above: