You may have seen this popping around your Facebook feed:
7 days, 7 black and white photos of my life.
No people, no explanation.
Challenge someone each day.
Where to start.
Where. To. Start.
Firstly, maybe, a little about Black and White photography. Initially, from the time of Daguerre and Fox-Talbot, it was the only photography, and then until, say, the 70’s, the only photography of any weight.
“Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.” – Robert Frank
Robert Frank was the author of a lovely little book called “The Americans”, a proper tour de force, a smack in the face with a fresh wet fish book. It was made using a ‘small’ camera – one you could hold in your hand and not use a tripod with, when most of photography was using big cameras, those odd ones where you need a hood over your head.
But I digress. Suffice it to say, that the colours of photography were black and white from about 1839 until 1976, when William Eggleston’s “Guide” was published. That date is arbitrary on my part, but let it serve as a milestone. Since that time, and especially with the advent of digital photography, colour photography has come a long, long way.
In non-art circles, or non-photography circles, i.e. to the general public, I believe that black and white photography still has a mystique, partly based on nostalgia and partly based on cultural memory, whatever. This, perhaps, is the reason for the ‘7 black and white photos’ part of the challenge.
I use black and white for some things, and not for others. I use film, or digital, as the case may be, for specific applications. I should perhaps point out that that I am not really an analogue photographer as I scan film and print on ink-jet when I use film. So while taking 7 photographs in 7 days of my life is an exercise, it might not be that I’m taking them in black and white.
I take black and white photos of landscapes and of my family. I’ve a few good ones, but I am revisiting them now and then. Take these two, for instance:
I took these in 2010, on a walk in the alps with my suitably named friend Marcus Berg, and Sheila Jevon. The top one I published first in 2010, the second one I did in the last couple of months. I haven’t decided which one I like more yet – at the moment I like different aspects of them.
My point here is, I’m a bit slow at this stuff. There are a lot of choices to make about tones (i.e. just how light or dark everything is, as well as secondary toning so the final photograph is just not black or white), depending on what you want to depict. If I’m going to commit to a project, I want to have a fairly clear idea to what I want to achieve in doing it. At the moment I’m not.
Secondly, I don’t get the abstract part of it, which is what I interpret the ‘no people’ to be. My elder son, Stuart, summed it up pretty succinctly: “You take a lot of boring photos of trees”. Yes, apparently I’m one of those tree-guys. There’s a lot of us, poisoned by Ansel Adams.
Stu’s point though, is a significant one. Photos of people are inherently more interesting than photos of not-people. I bet more people own “The Americans” than own Bernd and Hilla Bechers’ “Blast Furnaces.” It was no doubt the main reason for the enduring success of “The Family of Man”.
They are also much, much harder to do well. Especially when you have little kids, as I do.
Finally, I’ve built my life around people. Why on earth would I willingly exclude them? Certainly not for some randomly appearing shared feed post.
And here’s a couple of boring trees things for good measure: