I don’t actually know the technicalities of black and white photography. To be frank, I had a conversation with a 14-year-old last month and he knew WAY more about photographic technology than I did – new types of sensors, better lenses etc… and that was fine. Call me old fashion but I say if people were creating amazing photographs in the 60’s, and even earlier, than I don’t need to be up on the new technology. I have a camera that works, I shoot everything on Manuel and I can honestly say I have no taken more than 10 pictures in my life with a lens on Automatic Focus, I just pretend like it doesn’t exist. Maybe I have missed a few shots, but its all practice, right? Practice towards mastering an art.
In terms of shooting in Black & White I do, however, follow a rule that I have developed. Let’s call it the Decade Ambiguity Rule. It suggests that by removing distractions of modern life it is possible to create an image that could have been captured during a period of multiple decades. With this lack of social context the images slip into an era of timelessness.
My favorite things, and also the more challenging, to shoot using this rule are portraits and street scenes as they contain the elements of changing cultures, styles, and technologies – things that place a scene in a specific time period. This is especially fun to do in other cultures as it opens up even more possibilities. For example if I shoot a portrait of someone from my own culture their fashion/style can give context and relate to a time period. Ex – mini skirts and baggy sweater of the 90’s. But if I do this in a remote part of the world where the locals are still wearing traditional clothing than the photos can play this fun trick on the eye (and the mind.)
It is easiest to do this with animals (dogs in the 1950’s look no different from dogs today) and nature (except where we have destroyed it) as there are less moving parts – you find a scene, you worry about basic BW rules, and ‘click’. Done. I don’t mean to over simplify shooting in black and white, it is an art itself, I am simply speaking in terms of using Decade Ambiguity.
Just in case your curious, my inspiration comes from three places:
1. A nostalgic longing of a time which had brown-eyed woman and red grenadine, but the moments were captured in black & white (at least sometimes, but always with analog technology)
2. I love colors. But I am a minimalist at heart so if the color can be stripped out down to its simplest form while still capturing a moment than let’s do that.
3. I explore cultures to see what the past was like. There is little hint of a past where I grew up in America, it’s a brave new world. So this type of photography creates peepholes into the past which spark my imagination.
*Special thanks to my friend Raisa for inviting me to participate in the 5 day Black & White Challenge. It was while putting together photos for the challenge that I decided to write this article. Thanks Rai!