[lit-ideas] Photography black & white vs. color

  • From: Mike Geary <jejunejesuit.geary2@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 29 Aug 2011 08:27:30 -0500

I thought I had saved Lawrence's post about black & white photography
vis-a-vis color hoping to comment on it.  But apparently I didn't.  So
anything I attribute to Lawrence may well be the product of my imagination
(it usually is -- whether I have his quotes in front of me or not) and not
representative of Lawrence's beliefs at all.  Lawrence made a comment to the
effect that some photographer's prefer shooting in black and white because
(he suspects) it adds a tone of grittiness to photos of poverty, photos that
Lawrence believes are mostly propagandistic of liberal socio-economic
views.  That could all be true.  But it would certainly give short shrift to
the aesthetic values of black and white photography.  I find it interesting
that Lawrence would associate grittiness with black and white photos of
poverty and the down and out -- "grittiness" to me has meant something more
along the lines of the John Wayne world of "True Grit" -- a kind of
testosteronal machoism "bring it on, World".  Maybe what Lawrence
really means isn't grit but drabness -- the kind of drabness much like USSR
architecture.  But even if that's so, it seems an extreme stretch to call
any of Ansel Adams photos either drab or gritty.  Or Bresson's.  Or Dorethea
Lange's even though she specialized in photojournalism of the down and out
during the Great Depression.  I generally prefer black and white photos to
color, not only because that's the photography I grew up with and feel most
at home with.  My father was a photo hobbyist with a very good eye.  I would
join him in the dark room sometimes --  that was a magic time of my life,
seeing the white paper blossom with an image as I gently agitated the
developer tray, learning to know when it was "done", then to the stopper
tray, then the fixer tray, then the wash sink, then to the drying board.  I
loved it -- loved every step of it.  Color photography never had that
hands-on aspects.  Very few photographers did their on color film
developing.  I disagree with Lawrence's basic tenet that black and white
photography is still around as a photographic gimmick to elicit sympathy for
liberal social causes through a visually enhanced portrayal of abjectness.
I believe that color photography is fascistic  : )   It demands that you see
the world as it presents it.  Whereas black and white photography offers a
world open to interpretation.  It invites emotional involvement.

Mike Geary

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