Tuesday, December 19, 2006

urban ku # -18,762


Naha, Japan on the island of Okinawa. Why # -18,762? Well, I figure that I have taken at least 18,761 photographs between 1966 when this one was created and 2003 when I first started my ku series.

I have posted this photograph to emphasize that there is no taboo regarding BW photography. None. Zero. Nada. I have also put out an SOS to a few BW practioners I know to come on board. Here's hoping we see something soon. (Hey Thomas M., are you listening?)

In the mean time, I have been pondering the fate of BW photography in the digital age and the first thought that comes to mind is the word "effect". As in the comment repeated over and over on so many photo forums, "I like the BW effect." A comment that has me red-faced and screaming at my monitor, "HEY MORON, BW IS NOT AN EFFECT!!!!" A subset of this comment is the oft-repeated suggestion (upon viewing a color photograph), "This would be a good photograph to convert to BW."

The image that springs to mind is one of a befuddled and bewildered Ansel Adams casting about wondering which effect, color or BW, would be better for "Moonrise". Maybe he might decide to photograph in color because he could always convert to BW later.

Both of these comments have me concerned for the future of BW photography. Certainly there are still (double entendre) photographers who work in the BW genre and who understand the nuances of the medium's films and papers, but, like the photographic materials they work with, they seem to be an ever-diminisihing breed.

Sure, I have seen some BW inkjet prints printed with special BW ink sets that rival, and in some cases surpass, conventional/traditional BW prints. In most cases though, those prints have been made from scanned BW film originals. And, yes, there are PS/Lightroom conversion techniques that can yeld a very nice BW result. So the future isn't entirely bleak.

What happens when film disappears or becomes scarce (and costly)? Will a digital camera maker create a serious BW camera/sensor or in-camera software that allows BW photography to be the intended result?

What do you think?

And on a related topic, this photograph is from a 40 year-old BW negative. Anybody care to comment on the possible fate of 40 year-old digital files?

FYI The canal system on Okinawa, which feeds directly into the East China Sea or the Pacific Ocean (depending on which side of the island you are on), also doubled as the sewer "system". Everyday, when the tide went out (especially during the long hot summers), there was a "baking" effect that created a very pervasive odor. There's nothing I like better than a hot, humid day accented with the smell of "benjo". Although, it was something that I got use to.

FEATURED COMMENT: Brian Champman wrote: "......I know of quite a few digital photographers who focus almost exclusively on black and white (myself included)...".

publisher's disclosure Brian - Thanks for the thoughtful comments, much appreciated as always. I must admit that part of the reason behind this topic is to draw out a few digital-based BWers, and hopefully to be able to arm-twist them into sending a few photo submissions.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Steve Durbin said...

Colin Jago has been interested in an all B&W workflow; see his post at http://www.auspiciousdragon.net/E1blog/allmonochrome.html.

There would certainly be resolution advantages to a monochrome sensor, other things being equal, but I personally love not having to carry filters, and having the ability to effectively filter at liberty in post-processing. In fact, the ability to select by color in post-processing is a huge enhancement of traditional burning and dodging techniques. Knowledge of nuances of paper and chemistry is indeed being lost; taking its place is knowledge of digital processing techniques. It's still a high barrier if quality is the goal, and in any case the deciding factors remain the knowledge of subject, understanding of perception, and the eye of the artist.

12/19/2006 06:09:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12/19/2006 06:34:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Interesting post - I agree completely about B&W not being an effect although I hadn't really thought about it that way before. However...I know of quite a few digital photographers who focus almost exclusively on black and white (myself included) and I don't really think the future of b&w photography is in jeopardy as a result of RGB sensors.

The assumption that B&W photography as a genre is restricted to those who understand "the nuances of the medium's films and papers" is not fair to those of us who spend a lot of time working with the digital equivalents. There are an equal number of idiosyncrasies in converting to black and white (no different, imho, than "previsualizing" or looking through a "monochrome" filter prior to exposure), performing tonal manipulations, printers/inks/rips/papers/dot patterns, etc, to make digital black and white equally nuanced (and rewarding).

The materials may change but the scene always exists in color first and the photographer's intent and interpretation is required for it to become b&w...film or digital.

Brian

12/19/2006 06:39:00 PM  
Blogger Gary Nylander said...

First off I will admit I'm one of those stuck in the past photographers who is still shooting black and white film ( 4 x 5 mostly ) I scan and print digitally, so I'm half digital !, but I also shoot with digital cameras ( Nikon D2Hs ) for my job as a staff photographer for the local newspaper here in Kelowna, B.C.

On occasion I have shot with both digital and with film cameras of the same subject and I have to say I much prefer the film based black and white image over the black and white digital image, but that is my personal preference. I have this odd theory that with digital there are less photographers now a days shooting serious black and white. I think in the future there will not be as many good black and white images being produced mostly because colour is so easy now, from time to time I have visited at few internet sites where photographers post their work and there is always way more colour images which is often quite good, and the black and white is often quite weak in terms of image quality. There was a time in the ,1930's or 40's when black and white film was generally all you could shoot ( I know colour was around ), so photographers had to be good at shooting black and white film, it was either sink or swim. Now a days if an image doesn't work in black and white it can always stand as a decent colour image.

Gary

12/20/2006 07:15:00 AM  
Blogger paul maxim said...

I agree in general with your points about B & W, although I honestly don't see the disappearance of film as a threat to B & W as an art form. In my opinion, converting a digital color image to monochrome (successfully) is anything but easy. But those who can do it well seem to be able to produce stunning images on inkjet printers. And obviously the technology will continue to get better.

What really triggered my response, though, was the image of Naha. I was stationed on Okinawa in 1967 (on a radar installation just above Kadena AFB) and your photograph brought back a lot of memories. I purchased my first real camera there and took a lot of pictures (without having much of a clue about what I was doing). Seeing this made me remember that I should dig out those old transparencies and scan some of them. Who knows - there might even be a good one in there somewhere!

12/20/2006 11:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

when asked....color? Prose. Black and White? Poetry.

12/23/2006 04:25:00 PM  

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