Black and White or Color? Or both?

I have to admit that I gravitate toward photographing in color - yet at the same time, I love black and white images. Both have their place in the scheme of things, just as both film photography and digital photography have their place. One is not “better” than the other; they are different, that’s all.

Color images cause the viewer to look at the image with different eyes compared to black and white. Color elicits a different reaction in the viewer’s mind. The viewer sees the image through a different mental filter. Black and white does the same thing.

I realized this when looking at the magnificent black and white Piezography fine art prints of Oliver Klink recently. His images are meticulously composed, executed and printed using the Piezography printing process. Due to the strength of the content of his images, they could be executed in either black and white or color and would still have enormous visual impact - but the impact of a given image in color would be different from the impact of that same image when rendered in black and white.

Color prints are more realistic or objective; the world we live in is a world awash in color with thousands of different colors, tones, hues and variations. Black and white prints are more interpretative, more abstract and perhaps more artistic by nature. The distraction of brilliant, saturated colors is notably absent, giving way to perhaps a deeper, more reflective evaluation of the print by the viewer.

It all depends on the viewer and his/her way of looking at and perceiving an image, though. Whenever I look at Claude Monet’s water lilies, I am staggered by the delicate beauty of his work. I have never felt short changed by Monet’s choice to work in color rather than in black and white. By the same token, I have never longed for Ansel Adams’ powerful images of Yosemite to have been rendered in color. Each kind of subject matter seems to call out to be rendered in either black and white or color in order to optimize the impact of the images in a given body of work.

Digital photography allows us via Lightroom, Photoshop and other software to render a given image in both black and white and color, if we so choose. This is where things get sketchy.

My approach is to choose one or the other, but don’t jump back and forth between color and black and white in a given body of work or project. This will give the project or body of work a visual cohesiveness that would otherwise be missing.

Many photographers and gallerists will agree with this approach; others will call it nonsense. At the end of the day, it is the photographer who must choose.

As artists, we always have the freedom to choose - but we also must choose wisely.

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