Posts Tagged ‘photography’

Colour or B/W?

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

I’m trying hard to remember when I last took a black and white picture, and I think it must be more than ten years ago, though I do still have a few rolls waiting to be processed.

I spent around thirty years taking most of my pictures in black and white (though I often also worked in colour) . Many if not most of my favourite images, both my own work and that of other photographers is in black and white, but somehow I no longer feel any urge to work in black and white.

It would of course be easy to do so. A simple click of a mouse would convert the images taken in any of my digital cameras from colour to monochrome, but it’s something I dislike doing. Occasionally I’ve carried out this conversion, in the past using specialised Photoshop plugins (though now Lightroom has some good monochrome profiles built in) but generally only when my colour pictures are going to be reproduced in black and white – when I prefer to make my own conversions rather than leave it to others.

When I made the mistake of buying a Leica M8, there were some occasions where the colour was simply so wrong as to be unusable (though I spent hours trying to put it right with various software programs) and the only way to use pictures were as black and white. And while it was a lousy colour camera, it was actually pretty good as a black and white camera and perhaps I should have kept it for that. Later of course Leica did produce a monochrome model.

With mirrorless cameras you can even view the world in black and white, which might be an interesting way to work, though I’ve yet to try it for more than one or two test exposures. But generally I’m rather averse to converting images taken in colour into black and white and think most people who do so produce work that is unconvincing. You have to think differently to make good monochrome images, try to think tone instead of colour, and pay greater attention to shape, line and form.

I just spent ten minutes or so looking through some of the more interesting pictures I took earlier this year, looking for images that might possibly have worked in black and white, and coming to the conclusion that colour was essential for almost all. For this post I’ve picked a couple that I thought might work as well or better in black and white and made the conversion. I’ll let you judge – and please feel free to comment if you have a strong preference.

I was prompted to write this post by reading one on PetaPixel, What Shooting Film Taught Me About Black-and-White Photos by Ellie Cotton – I think it looks better on her own web site. I actually think all of the pictures in that article look better in colour, though a couple convert reasonably to black and white.


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My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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Steiglitz Key Set

Saturday, June 8th, 2019

NGA ONLINE EDITIONS ::  ALFRED STIEGLITZ KEY SET

Back in 2002, the US National Gallery of Art published the massive two-volume ‘Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set – Volume I & II: The Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Photographs‘ by Sarah Greenough, 1012 pages lavishly printed and weighing over 18 lbs, presenting the complete set of 1,642 photographs of his work, selected after his death in 1946 by his wife, the painter Georgia O’Keeffe who devoted three years of her life to sorting out the best examples of each of the finished and mounted prints in his possession when he died.

O’Keeffe presented the bulk of this work to the NGA in 1949, adding most of the rest, including well over 300 portraits of herself in 1980 which had previously only been on loan. There are several versions of many of the works, sometimes in different media and in some cases quite differently cropped and sometimes made over many years.

The book was a truly fine publication, heavily subsidised by generous donors, but in many respects the recent online presentation is preferable. Certainly the search facility is a great addition, as is the ability to zoom in on pictures, particularly for those of us whose eyesight is a little less sharp than it once was. And you can mark several pictures to compare them together on screen.

Those large and heavy paper volumes are also just a little difficult to handle, while the on-line presentation is excellent, enabling you to page easily through the pictures in order should you wish to, zooming in to them or scrolling down on the page to read more about them (they make use of the open source IIPMooViewer – you can read more about this should you be interested in a case study about the NGA on the IIPImage site.) The site seems to work remarkable quickly on my internet connection and you can also download the pages as PDFs should you wish to do so.

Of course the quality of reproduction of the online version will depend on the device you view this on, and your phone may not display them quite as well as a large calibrated monitor. But even more than the book, this is an enormous and fascinating work of scholarship.

Stieglitz remains one of the most important figures in the history of our medium, a major player as a photographer both in pictorialism and the move away from this to modernism and straight photography, as a photographer and also as an editor and curator. He was a prime mover in establishing photography as art and promoted the work of a number of photographers and painters through Camera Work magazine and his galleries, though it was only quite a few years after his death that an art market for photography came into being. He sold very few of his own images, and most of those in museum collections came like those at the NGA, from donations either by himself orafter his death by O’Keefe.

Despite the superiority of the online version, there is still something about the print version which I prefer, and it can still be bought on Amazon and elsewhere, with both new and secondhand copies on offer, but at a price. The cheapest I found in a very brief search, including shipping to the UK is around £170, though some dealers are asking up to £600. When I bought my copy I think I paid less than some are now charging for shipping.

Lens Ends

Wednesday, May 15th, 2019

Sad news to hear that the New York Times Lens blog is to end at the end of this month, May 2019. You can read more about it on PDN News. The closure, described by the NYT as a “hiatus” for an indefinite period means the end of one of the more thoughtful and innovative blogs about our medium after around ten years, with a number of posts by James Estrin and his co-editors that I’ve mentioned here – though not as many as I might.

Meaghan Looram, NYT director of photography, says it is time to rethink and “give serious thought to how to better position Lens for the future.” I suspect that means a dumbing down and an end to contributions by people with any great love or knowledge of photography, though I sincerely hope I’m wrong.

Lens has been more than just another photography blog. As PDN points out it has promoted many emerging photographers as well as highlighting work from earlier eras that has often been overlooked or under-appreciated. And importantly, as it states “Lens is one of the few photo blogs to pay the photographers whose work it features.”

That’s an important point, not just because many photographers need the money – it’s very tough for many, particularly young photographers to make a living, but because so many others seem to assume that photographers can live on ‘exposure’. But exposure won’t pay the bills. Are the journalists, the printers and others involved in publications and campaigns working for free? When anyone asks me if they can use my pictures without payment I have a simple question to whoever is asking – ‘Are you being paid for your work? ‘

Of course my suspicions about Lens are based on my own experience with the NYT, who bought a company I worked for and ruined it because the bean counters were determined to aim at the lowest common denominator and forced out those of us who wanted to write intelligently. By the time they sold it on it had lost most of its financial value and virtually all of its credibility.