Black and White And Color

Over the past year I have made two series of photographs that combine black and white and color in the same images: Salton Sea (Salton Sea) and Grain Silo (Grain Silo).

Gimmick or a valid approach? I have now shown these two portfolios to enough people to get a sense of where the answer lies but perhaps you should judge for yourself.

First up : Salton SeaThis is the first image in the series and it is just black and white. I am not going to go through the whole set here as they are represented on the website in their entirety. But, as the series unfolds, it becomes clear that I have laid a ground rule or two. One is that water, in this most barren of desert places, is represented in color:

But not just color but as the colors were as I was standing in front of this landscape, as they would be represented were I making a full color print. The Salton Sea is a fetid, dying place with dead fish littering its shores and the ground water so polluted as to be unusable.

As the series progresses, and as I moved around the site, the color that is the water is  less or more evidentso that finally in the last two frames I decided to give two renditions of the same  photograph, one in black and white with the final being in color:

Besides the obvious commentary that points to how we interpret color pictures and black and white pictures differently with changes in emphasis that are spacial, textural and in form,  I also was working off a more internal precept. From the time I was a student until the early 2000's I was a black and white photographer only. My whole career for over thirty years was this way. It wasn't until I started making pictures using digital tools that I started making color photographs. At first this was  by still shooting film, scanning the color negatives and making color inkjet prints, then, as digital capture got better, I started making color photographs from start to finish, as I do now.

Let's take a look at the second of this way of working, the Grain Silo series.These don't "ramp up" as the Salton Sea series did, they start right out combining  both black and white (the silo) and color( the surrounding wheat fields and landscape). Why? To emphasize the essentially black and white structures that are man made and placed in a natural environment and to therefore reflect on just how much color there is in this blue sky day in the wheat fields of eastern Washington in August.

I have believed for now a long time that photography is often at its best when it is presented as a comparative set of values. That we can draw attention to something better by comparing it to something opposite or contrasting. Sharpness next to blurriness, light next to dark, textural to flat and formless, etc. These two series are my way of showing that same principle but making a statement about color by putting it next to black and white in the same picture. 

Gimmick or valid approach? I think you will answer based upon your desire for pictures to look "real"as in what something would look like if you were standing in front of the subject. But I am an artist, not a documentarian, and think of it as only secondary that my pictures look like what was there in front of me and my camera.

I wonder if this post will spark some controversy. Please look at both series in their entirety and remember that you can always email me at: Neal's email and that all of these photographs posted here can be seen larger by clicking on any one of them.

Topics: black and white and color,California,Washington

Permalink | Posted December 20, 2012