WHY NOT TO PRESENT THE SAME PHOTOGRAPH IN BOTH COLOR AND BLACK AND WHITE
STRANGER San Diego, California
As I was scrolling through my Google + stream this morning. I came across a post by a longtime, established, and relatively renowned photographer with an image posted two ways - both in color and black and white, with the question,
"Which one do your prefer?"
"I'd prefer for you, the photographer, to be decisive and choose which one works best! I'd prefer not to see photographs in both color and black and white." I wanted to holler back. But I didn't. I suppose I didn't want to ruffle anyone's feathers. With that said, I think it's a worthy topic to look at and discuss, and this is my forum - so it's fine. If I ruffle feathers from here - so be it.
So, what's my issue here?
Personally, I can't stand when I see photographers present the same photographs two ways, both in color and black and white. In my eyes, an image works either as a color image, or a black and white - not both. (That would be a general "rule" for me. Rules are often bent and broken, so maybe there are some times when an image does work well as a color and a black and white image, but still - that doesn't mean that the photographer should present both!) Choose which one resonates with you, your vision, and what it is you are expressing and communicating, and go with that. If you are presenting the same image in both color and black and white, you are saying one of a couple things:
- This is simply a "product", so therefore I can show it in varied forms.
- I am not clear as to what my photographic vision is here, nor am I clear about what it is I aim to express and communicate with this image.
In either case, it is a shame. I'd expect this from early-on-the-path photographers still discovering their personal vision, but I am increasingly shocked to see longtime established photographers (including "the best photographers in the world" who own multiple galleries!) presenting photographs both ways. Sadly, it is becoming more and more common.
Any piece of art is the result of a series of many decisions made by the artist. Decisions made in-camera, decisions made in the digital (or traditional) darkroom, decisions made in the presentation. Any poor decision along the way can make the entire thing fall apart. You can make all the optimal and strong decisions toward making a beautiful and expressive photograph, and then at the very end put a gaudy frame and pink mat around the print and suddenly the entire presentation crumbles. It is very important for the artist to recognize this, be decisive and confidant with each decision made along the way, and to realize that each decision holds equal importance. If you can not be confidant with your decisions, then slow down and take your time with it, re-approach it at a later time, or ditch it altogether. But, to ask the world for their input...no good.
I have been selling art and photography to the public for a number of years, and I can't begin to imagine what would become of the art if you asked everyone's opinion about what it should be. I am sure the responses would be as varied as those who were asked. They are not the artists - you are. And even if you are asking a panel of other artists/photographers, their responses will all be just as varied. So, which answer do you go with? 10 people respond - 6 vote for color and 4 vote for b&w. Do you present the world with the color version? The b&w version? Or, likely you present both, right? I don't like it. It isn't for others to determine what works best with your art - unless it's just a product. If that's the case, then yeah - you probably should go with both color and black and white, sepia toned and selenium toned, red and blue toned, pop style multiples, infrared, and whatever other presets you find on your software. Then you can print the image/s on a variety of mediums like canvas (gag), metal, inkjet, wood, glass, and whatever else the lab offers. Hell, throw it all at the wall and see what sticks!
I like to see artists being decisive with their art. I like to see Michael Kenna express decades worth of work with one format, captured with one style camera, one print type, one size presentation, and one structured edition. That's probably why he is a master! We can all learn from that. Instead of asking the world what they think, we should ask ourselves what we think! How do I feel about this image? What am I trying to communicate? What do I look to express? How is it best expressed to the world? By asking ourselves more questions about our own work and allowing our personal feelings to answer - not our thinking minds - then, we naturally go deeper into the work. In the stillness of the deeper waters, clarity comes. With clarity, art can be born and is a personal expression of the artist.