Many of us remember falling in love with black-and-white film and spending days and nights in the darkroom. When digital photography started to evolve, many photographers who had worked primarily in black-and-white, were dazzled with the ease with which they could now create in full color. Fortunately, black-and-white photography never disappeared; rather it had to be reinvented from scratch to reach the beauty it had during its life in the analog/film era. Now it has come full circle.
So what is it about black-and-white imagery that seduces our senses? To find out, we touched down in San Diego, California to chat with black-and-white photography maestra, Memphis Barbree. Memphis is teaching the online photography classes, Digital Black-and-White Photography, at The Compelling Image Online School of Photography. Here are Memphis’s insights into the power and beauty of black-and-white imagery.
I love photographing in black-and-white. It’s my main medium of expression as a photographer. For landscape photography in particular, creating in black-and-white communicates a sense of timelessness that I find really appealing. It provides such a great immediate abstraction of a subject and helps a viewer of a photograph take a visual step back and see even the everyday from a different perspective. I experience nature and all of life as one continuum - a process that loops through fascinating twists and turns, shifts and slides, back and forth, in and out, and over and over. I want my photographs to express this view. Using black-and-white helps me transport the viewers of my work into a place that could be the past, present or future.
Many people, when new to photography, are immediately drawn to create color images because bright colors easily draw and excite the eye. After studying the art of black-and-white for some time, a photographer will began to understand the difference between luminance and color values. It can be helpful to work only in black-and-white for a time while training your eye. After a while one can come to understand and love black-and-white’s unique language and way of expression.
Studying black-and-white photography can be a path to learning the basics of photography the way one learns basic classical scales of a musical instrument before going on to play all sorts of music. You’ll be a better color photographer to have studied and mastered black-and-white work. It could even happen that you find the world of black-and-white its own unique and magical path of photographic expression for you.