This piece will not give you a defining answer on which is better, colour or black and white, nor is it an actual fight like a boxing match or Street Fighter 2 like the title may suggest and I am sorry if you have got this far and now feel misled, you are welcome to head off now, maybe match an Arnold Schwarzenegger film (other action stars are available), no harm no foul. Nope, this isn’t a resolve piece, it is an opinion piece based on my own ideas and experiences, however misguided they may be.
I have mentioned a few times in passing that I would often impose rules onto myself and my photography, some little, some big, some moronic and for no good reason other than the that’s what ‘real’ photographers do. The backwards attitude and the pains of being an enthusiast, rather than a professional, always struggling with the idea of identity and feelings of what I should be doing, how I should be acting, doing what the ‘professionals are definitely doing’ rather than just doing what I want to do. One of those rules was what medium – is medium the correct term? I’m using it, feel free to correct me if it is not, I don’t care – to shoot in, black and white or colour. Now rules can be good. Imposing restrictions can breed creativity, I’m all for that and I do that with my work now, give myself little challenges to try to push myself into making better work. Or at very least something a little more interesting or different or… I don’t know, just something that is worked for and born out of creative constraint. Those rules are great but rules for rules sake, that is pointless.
Round 1 (imagine me in a bikini holding up a sign if you wish, I have the legs for one)
When I started street photography it was with an exposure to the classics and the classics where in black and white, classically. Of course they are (I also learned using film and became very used to having to choose what to go out and shoot in but I get so tired of reading about how people who ‘shoot in film and it’s soo much better than digital, digital should be banned, you ain’t a true photographer if you don’t shoot in film,’ folks that I just don’t tend to mention it. Not all film shooters are like this, just some shits and they do my head in. Same with the all the audiophiles that yup on about only listen to vinyl and have done since bread came unsliced! I like music, all types as well, I own close to three hundred CD’s but I also have LP’s and I download, legally, music. Doesn’t mean jack matey, can shoot how you want, listen how you want, read how you want, it does not matter, just as long as you are happy and not hurting anybody, unless they have paid you to do so, but that is different matter altogether). I would shoot in RAW but with my camera settings all set to look like black and white, it was annoying as I would have to edit everything in Post-production just to get the photo back to how I saw it in camera so I quickly changed to shooting everything in JPEG, mainly to know that I have caught what I wanted in camera and, also, because I am lazy and want to do minimal in Post. At this point Black and White is all I could see, metaphorically not literally, I’m not colour blind and even if I was that is not how it works. Photographing in black and white taught me to see form and shape, taught me how to see without distraction or dictation from colour, I started to photograph interesting moments, tried to look for emotions and got to really see and know light, which is a beautiful thing. Over exposure to this way of thinking actually cause me to start viewing almost everything entirely in Black and White. Scenes felt like there where straight out of the Noir films I loved so much growing up. They felt instantly ‘classic’ and by that, I mean timeless. They could have been taken today or fifty years ago. I thought myself free and masterful. I knew that colour still existed but it was almost like my brain had a filter that help removed the colour from the world. That sounded very depressing indeed but I can assure you it wasn’t and that I am a well-rounded, perfectly normal human being and I have plenty of doctor’s notes to prove that very fact. It was wonderful for a while but my mindset was to soon change, the rule was to change and because of that my mind was to fracture into a billion little pieces. It’s ok though as in the same moment it exploded it reassembled again, just in a slightly different order.
Round 2. “Well, what’ya think a’that Mike?”, “Black and white started strong, Bob, coming outta-the-cornor with porpose and force. Colours gonna need to pick itself up if it wansta last the match”.
We went on holiday, My partner, Boss, and our friends Stef and Niall, to Florida, the sunshine state of oranges, Disneyland, Universal, the placed that hosts the city made famous by that excellent Will Smith song, Miami – It as also just been mentioned in Twelve Monkeys, a terrific Terry Gilliam film about a future world devastated by disease and to solve it the send Bruce Wills back in time to gather information about the man-made virus that wiped out most of the human, watch it, it’s a great film – and NASA, how could I forget about NASA. I loved that place. So, yeah, the sunshine place. Although Boss had a camera with her I had tasked myself with grabbing all our holiday snaps. I couldn’t do that in Black and White, I mean I would like that but Boss wouldn’t, I don’t think she would at least, so I switched to colour.
Round 5. “Hoh! What. An. Incredible display of movement. Can’t count Colour out just yet folks, right Mike?’, ‘Sure can’t Bob. This match is really startn’ to get goin”.
It was strange at first, a departure from my world, a matrix of black and white, I took the red pill – yup, sandwiched that pop culture reference in there – and opened my eyes to the wonder of colour. It was great. I had learned the lessons that black and white had taught me and I was now implementing them but with the addition of having colour popping out of every pore of the picture. I started to use it to my advantage. A hint of red against blue, green and orange, wonderful contrasts and a good way to make things standout. I kept the form and the function but the photo could become more about the colourful world I was rediscovering. I did convert some in post processing but the majority of the photos stayed in colour. Was refreshing in a way I never expected to experience. I wanted that feeling to continue when I came home.
Round 7. “Well Bob, after the use of the ‘Holiday Explanation’ by colour I’m jus struggln’ to see how Black and White is gonna come back, surely it’s all over now?”, “You could be right Mike, but we’ve seen it time and time again frm Black and White, jus when people count-it-out, it comes back stronger than ever. I don’t thnk colour has time to rest!”, “That’s the bell, Lets get back to the action Bob!”.
My return from the sun was not as glorious as I thought it would be as I was expecting to be met at the airport by a small press team and a plethora of adoring fans for no other reason than I had a supersized ego and expect that response when I enter the shops, never mind returning home from foreign lands. It was dreich and dour with a thick mist hanging over everything, like returning home to Silent Hill, some of the mutants that star in that film live round my way. Village life. I did wondered how Scotland would look in colour, not as ‘Hollywood’ as out west and I was right but Scotland is a country that never fails to surprise and I was, surprised, at how good things looked, in colour.
Colour has something that black and white can’t offer, which is colour, which is obvious but what I mean by that is colour, with its bright hues, catch the eye. This also means you can’t hide too many mistakes in a colour image. I think this is something that plagues black and white images. Just convert an okay colour image, that will make it a good photo … nah, it won’t. I don’t think this is something you can do with colour. And colours can give a great hint to seasons, moods and it can elicit emotions, I mean can you image Picasso’s Blue Period in black and white? It just wouldn’t have same appeal. Then there is colour theory and if you are really clever, Einstein clever, smarter than the average bear clever, then you can use that to your advantage and draw the unsuspecting eye in. I tried to do all of this in my colour, sometime successful, sometimes just a work in progress. I’m as smart as the average bear, unless I have to catch a salmon swimming upstream, then always bet on the bear!
Round 9. “Well, we’ve hit the ninth round an a fairly even match its been, wouldn’t you agree Bob?”, “Yah, I would Mike! Very back and forth, very, back, and, forth. Impressive moves from each party”, “Indeed Bob, I’m surprised its lasted this long, lets get bak to the action…”.
I worked in colour for a while, indulging my colour-sweet-tooth. I was enjoying it up and to the twinge for black and white kicked-in. I could feel a pull, my mind’s eye was drifting, flashing frantically between colour and black and white vision. I started to fracture, split in my photographer personalities, Bruce Banner and The Hulk. It was doin’ my nut in! I wanted to continue in colour but my heart was yearning for black and white and my head was definitely seeing in it. During this little fracture when worlds where tearing apart, minutes stretching into millennia, stars bursting from death into life, civilisations form, they’d make fire, discover that they can swap services for payment, regret that decision almost immediately but never admitted to anyone, dress up in fancier and fancier leaves, give themselves important but unrelatable titles, say ‘Yah, yup, uh hm’, every time they finish a sentence, Vogue (the magic of music knows no bounds) at every opportunity they get, decide it’s a good idea to ponder on where they come from, discover it’s from the water but no one can understand this as no one likes to swim, agree that whoever discovered this information should be shot into either sun’s, build a giant portal to the stars, vote in the local Project Manager in as Overlord Supreme (he brought in a Stock Broker and Solicitor as Vice-overlord Supreme and Advertising and Marketing Manager. The voters could never understand why he didn’t just appoint an Advertising and Marketing Manager to do the job of an Advertising and Marketing Manager but you could never get a straight answer from any Overlord Supreme mainly because they never really knew themselves.) and drift slowly into blissful obscurity enjoying a bath twice a day. All of this up and to an epiphany whispered in my ear ‘why not shoot both?’
BANG! And there it was. I never know why I never consider the simplest options, at least first time anyway, always like the difficultly but it was so simple, so blissfully simple, I took it, both it would be and both it is. Now, I go out with my camera set either in black and white or colour, in JPEG and I shoot. If I am in black and white and see something I like in colour I switch over to one of my colour presets and vice versa. I even convert some of my colour photos into black and white in post-production and I am even happy about it, well as happy as you can be about these kinds of things. The best of both worlds and an easy life because of it.
Round 10. “And there it is Bob! Who would’ve seen that comin’?”, “Unbelievable Mick, Unbelievable. Both full of fatigue, both going pound for pound, round for round and in an astonishing twist of fate theyave-taken eachother out! Straight KNOCKOUT!”, “I never thought it would happen Bob, thought for sure with Black and Whites from an historey shurely a win was in the bag but just can’t ever count Colour out”, “Yup, learn a lot tonight Mick, can’t wait to see what comes next”, ”Indeed Bob, indeed”.
That’s right, double knock down, Rock Vs Apollo Creed with my own magical twist. Who saw that coming? I did, I wrote it but that’s an unfair advantage. There is no real ‘better’ or even competition for black and white vs colour, it’s about what you like and what you want to do. Each have their merits, they are discoverable in this post and I will always love shooting in black and white but I will never count colour out. A heart-warming tale for our age…
All thoughts and comments are welcome.