A lot of people ask me if I work in colour as well as charcoal. As an artist I have explored various different colour mediums including oils, acrylics, pastels and watercolours and have enjoyed some more than others. In addition to this, my textiles background has called for a lot of experimentation with colour (and still does!) And yet, I have always been more drawn to black and white images and I made a conscious choice years ago to just do my portrait drawings in monochrome.
In my youth I studied and admired photographers such as Bill Brandt and Ansel Adams and soon realised that monochrome images can have an impact on the viewer that coloured images just can’t achieve in the same way.
In the past photographers would shoot in black and white due to the technical limitations of the time. Now it is easier than ever to achieve impressive colour shots with a standard digital camera and then edit and filter them to our heart’s content using various programs and apps.
We live in a world full of colour and naturally we are drawn to vibrant coloured imagery. As Jason Bradley states “Naturally, people gravitate to color photography like a kid to candy, attracted to images that pop with Disney-like vibrancy”* People often think of black and white as being a bit boring and lifeless. I have even heard it said that as technology has moved on and we are no longer limited to taking photographs in black and white, there is no longer a place for monochrome imagery in our modern culture.
So why are black and white images still so popular?
Composition, light, shadow and texture are emphasised
When you look at a black and white image you are made much more aware of its composition and of the shadows, highlights, patterns and textures. All of the distracting colours are reduced to a huge range of grey tones. When I have worked in black and white I have found that subjects which were formerly uninteresting, such as a stone wall, all of a sudden become more appealing because the vast array of textures are all of a sudden intensified.
They are timeless and “other-wordly"
Black and white is timeless but can also have the effect of making an image seem slightly surreal…because we live in colour seeing images in monochrome forces us to look at them in a different way and although we know we are looking at something real it can feel rather abstract. As Bradley says “ Black-and-white is timeless, but more than that, it transcends reality and transforms an image into a realm that isn't abstraction, but isn't reality either.”**
They evoke stronger emotions
The primary reason for my using charcoal and therefore no colour in my portraits is because I personally find that taking the colour out of a drawing strips it of any distractions allowing the subject to speak for itself and for its unique character to really shine through. As Nicoal Price puts it “Removing color from a picture helps the viewer to focus on a subject’s emotional state.”*** Black and white can therefore evoke more powerful emotions than colour.
As I have stated before I am huge fan of colour but when it comes to portraiture I still choose black and white every time. Which do you prefer?
*Bradley, Jason: “Why Choose B&W” : [http://www.outdoorphotographer.com/tips-techniques/nature-landscapes/why-choose-b-and-w/]:para. 1
** Bradley, Jason: “Why Choose B&W” : [http://www.outdoorphotographer.com/tips-techniques/nature-landscapes/why-choose-b-and-w/]:para.2
***Price, Nicoal: “Color vs black and white photography – What makes sense and when?”: [http://www.photographyvox.com/a/color-vs-black-and-white-photography/]: para 7