The Most Pointless Question In Photography

Dec 19, 2023

Whaddaya want - color or black and white?​
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​Hope you're having a great day!
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Nothing frustrates me more than when a photographer posts an image and asks random strangers - 'what is better, colour or black and white for this image?'
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I feel that choice is something that only the photographer themselves can answer.

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I'm a sucker for Joel Meyerowitz - but not just him images (TBH, some of them I think it's his name carrying them - but the same could be said for most famous photographers) - it's also his willingness to talk about the WHY in photography.
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It's a rare thing to find a photographer who is:
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​Talented,
Eloquent,
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and willing to share their knowledge
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There's a new book that's come out from Joel called 'Joel Meyerowitz: a Question of Color'
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The premise of the book is that in 1963 Joel was able to get a second camera, and decided to put color film in one body, black and white in the other.
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In his own words 'so when the oppertunity arises... make a picture of something with both'.
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So here's an oppertunity to see a talented photographer learn to see what happens when he photographs the same scene in with different film stocks.
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This is also, we mustn't forget an era when to be a 'serious' photographer you had to use black and white. Colour was an affront to Art (with a capital A)
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I mean, I love Walker Evans, but this is pretty typical statement from back in the day:

Color tends to corrupt photography and absolute color corrupts it absolutely. Consider the way color film usually renders blue sky, green foliage, lipstick red, and the kiddies’ playsuit. These are four simple words which must be whispered: color photography is vulgar.

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However, there's a passage I think is telling:

From my first moments as a photographer — the very first roll of film, actually — I worked in color and believed in its potential. Why wouldn’t I? The world was in color! There was no question about what film to use and, besides, in that passionate first moment of discovering photography I wanted to see what I had made photographs of as fast as I could get them back from the lab. -

My own first steps in photographer were in colour. It wasn't until I went to Art School that I shot my first roll of black and white.
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Though I do remember thinking even then that I had now become a 'serious' photographer because I was using black and white film stock (Ilford FP4 Plus)
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When I look at the pairings Joel presents in the book, I can't help but feel he's trying to answer the question about why 'serious' photographers were/are expected to photograph in black and white.
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Which leads me onto thinking about that question people present today - which is 'better' for their images? Colour or black and white?
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It must depend on what the photographer wants to present.
A glorious sunset wouldn't work in black and white for example.
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If you've struggled with this question then you're not alone, I have also spent time dithering back and forth in Photoshop with a particular image.
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A lot of that, certainly in my own case, comes from not comitting to the process when I took the image.
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Of course Joel had to make a choice - load up with colour or BW, but in the digital world we don't have to make such a choice.
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That's why the images I struggled with, and yes, also asked 'BW or colour, can't decide', were such a problem. I wasn't thinking about the image when I took it.
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This afternoon - look around you - spend time asking if what you see would be better served by colour, or by black and white.
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Joel photographs 'the world', and the world exists in colour.
I photograph shapes, and those shapes inhabit a black and white world.
Where do the images you love to photograph live?
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Send me an email and let me know
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Alex
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P.S
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I'm in the process of curating some of my images for sale, and I'm currently battling with this idea of colour vs black and white. Not specifically the images themselves, but I'd like to present a harmonious body of work. Should I have colour images, or lean into the strong black and white ones?
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I should add this dilemma to the list of 'things they should teach you at art school' :D
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If you'd like to see some more of my personal work, you can check it out on Instagram