You may have to wait a day or two to access the web site of Yurian Quintanas Nobel which is currently getting rather a lot of traffic doubtless thanks to his essay Grabarka: Transfiguration Day which appeared on Burn on Friday. Burn “is an evolving journal for emerging photographers… curated by magnum photographer david alan harvey” (and like My London Diary in its early days has a shortage of captial letters, although not it its articles) which publishes a great deal of good new work.
One of the things that drew my attention to Nobel’s feature was that it was in black and white, but also it was taken in Poland, a country I have fond memories of, and also looks at a religious event of which I have covered a few. It is a nicely structured set of 17 images, presented at high quality, almost good enough to be worth viewing at full screen on my largish display (most web displays aren’t, and look better small.)
Looking through the pictures, there are certainly some where black and white works well, particularly in making light coloured crosses stand out against a dark background. But there were a few others where I longed to see the picture in colour. Looking at it, the quality of some of the images in low light suggests to me it was actually taken on digital and then transfigured into colour.
But the use of black and white is appropriate for several reasons, not least that it fits with the ideas about darkness and light and the living and the dead that are at the heart of this mystical and spiritual location and the events there.
But – whether or not it would be appropriate here – I think that many photographic essays might benefit if photographers were to break what appears to be a taboo and mix colour and black and white images. It used to happen often somewhat randomly in the old days of magazines when only certain pages of publications were printed in colour, although too often it was the images that really needed colour were printed in black and white and vice-versa.
It still occasionally happens, though now it is largely a matter of designer whim as most printing is 4 colour, and there are several examples in my work in the Stop the War book.
I obviously took this picture in colour, and for reasons best known to the editors it was used in the book as a black and white image. Not quite as well-converted as my black and white below, rather darker and duller, and of course cropped.
In the black and white version, the placard at the bottom of the image pulls the eye far more strongly (perhaps why they printed it all darker) whereas in colour the focus is very much more on the warmly-lit faces of the two women clapping, and I think it works very much better. I think I might have framed it rather differently if I had been thinking in black and white when I took the picture, although without being there it’s hard to decide. Obviously I was interested in the two prominent CND symbols as well as the group of people clapping.
It is only one of several pictures on a page, printed fairly small, and some of the others are in colour. It certainly doesn’t help the picture to be in black and white and I don’t think it makes for a better page either.