Friday, August 05, 2011

Saying it in black and white

 
Above: Simply B&W with added film grain.
There was a time not so long ago when a colour roll of film had to be sent to one of the film manufacturers for processing and it came back three weeks later and was opened with much pomp and ceremony. Having colour pictures taken was a privilege and because of that they were coveted. The family gathered round and often, half the shots were blurred, but they were colour.



Now, they give them back to you in fifteen minutes. Like bread rolls, assembly lined lava flow. Give one such roll to a shop and the man there zaps it through this steel monster in the corner and there are the prints, all cold and calculated and correct.
The more traditional among us can feel robbed. Of the magic, of the excitement of checking if the rolls had come, that keen edge to anticipation almost unbearable until one day, the postman knocked and there was this registered roll and we called dad in the office and said, the roll has come and it was kind of a family thing.
What was this? Just a transaction, with no feeling, whatsoever. Even the pictures reflect that blocked, limited expression, adequate perhaps for your passport sized snap where ironically they want a white background or else….
And because they are so easily done now, colour pictures have become two dimensional and tacky. They all look like your screen saver.
Even the youngest of artists and painters and writers will applaud the genius of black and white, that stark contrast against the splash of colour. Many believed then and believe now that black and white was the way to give the news. Colour trivialises the import, deflects from the story, becomes gloss and the centre of a debate on how it has registered and whether the colours are impressive obscuring the storyline...what difference does it make if Obama’s suit is dark blue or navy? If Mubarak’s caged shot was in black and white it would have had more impact.
After all, through history, the best action pictures ever have been in black and white. Try and recall one colour picture to compete with John John’s salute to his dead father, the napalm panic of little Kim Phu, the shot of the self immolated Buddhist priest in Thailand, the pistol shooting in Cambodia, the slaying of Bobby Kennedy, Nehru’s cortege, Marilyn on the grate, Churchill’s cigar smoking portrait by Karsh, Stalin profiled in the shade, Lenin in stark contrast, incandescent in their absence of colour, John Lennon and Yoko Ono the morning he was killed.
Colour also flattens a picture since there are no half tones. But black and whites have a power, a stature, they stand out. No wonder National Geographic continues to have a special section, no wonder there is the famous Black and White photography shop in New York, no wonder collectors still go forth and seek the monochrome world when it comes to creativity.
Look around your own home. The best photographs are not in colour. Look at the grandeur of those photos of the past, the power play of the shadows, the grace in the lines and you will realise that colour could never achieve even a fraction of that depth. See yourself and friends and family ancestors through the years, how delightful and clear the black and whites are, so much more range, paradoxically so much more animated and real than the assembly lined colour shots.
Your roll looks like anyone else’s roll, sometimes you have to peer at your shots to ensure they are yours, everyone has that washed out coloured look.
And what is most surprising. They don’t do black and white, no, they do not have black and white film in most stores.
No one wants black and white, it is a waste of investment.
It would be very difficult to get a roll developed in town, maybe one of the newspapers, they are the only ones with black and white facilities, but otherwise it isn’t easy and it would take a long time to get back, certainly not twenty minutes.
Has the world really changed so much? You can’t get a b and w roll and if you do you the odds are no one will develop it for you because they don’t have the facility.
So much talent, so much elegance, just wiped away for the convenience of technology and its inexorable progress.
Whatever happened to creativity.
It went colour and lost.