100 Faces: Why Black & White?
Happy New Year! So great to be back to posting and back to work after a much needed break. We’re a few weeks away from the exhibition and I’m super excited.
Everything’s coming together well. Prints are being finalized, last minute details taken care of, hiring staff, etc. Planning an exhibition is very challenging and has definitely been a learning experience. After the show I’ll be doing a post covering how I planned it and reflect on the good and “could have been improved” aspects of it all.
For today, I wanted to discuss the choice of black & white over color for 100 Faces.
I’ve always enjoyed black-and-white imagery. When I was a kid I spent a lot of time home alone while my parents were at work and siblings at school. TV shows I use to watch to pass the time were often in black-and-white (Gunsmoke, Green Acres, The Andy Griffith Show). My parent’s old Time and Life magazines featured powerful black-and-white imagery. And some of my all-time favorite films happened during the black-and-white era of Hollywood (12 Angry Men, Psycho, Three Faces of Eve). There was something timeless about the black-and-white imagery I saw. Maybe it was just nostalgia, but I loved it nonetheless.
When I was enrolled at Academy of Art University, we had a color photography lesson that outlined some of the differences between color and black-and-white. One of the key things they pointed out about black-and-white imagery is that it’s inherently abstract to our eyes since we natively see in color. Black-and-white also gives you an appreciation for shape and form, often due to the contrast and variation of tonality in the image. Of course you can have contrast in color imagery as well and “color contrast” is often beautiful to see. I love shape and form, so when it comes to highlighting those aspects of an image, black-and-white is often my first choice.
When it comes to portraiture, I believe the use of black-and-white goes beyond shape and form. While those aspects are important considerations as well, I black-and-white for portraiture is also used to add character to the image and/or to emphasize the subject in the photograph. In a way, the choice of black-and-white can be similar to adding a filter on say, Instagram. We’ve all played around with these filters and noticed the subtle or often huge affect they have on an image. Choosing black-and-white immediately changes the character of apicture. It can make a somber photograph appear even more dramatic. A portrait of someone laughing seem more reflective. Color, by contrast, adds a lot of energy to a photograph. It feels more “present-day” if that makes sense. Unless, of course, it’s some vintage filter or an old photograph shot on a now expired film stock.
As I learned in school, color tends to date an image. You can often tell the era a photograph was taken by the colors present whether that is on the clothing people wear or the environment they’re in. Certain uses of color go in and out of vogue throughout the years and makes the era more apparent in color photography. Black-and-white makes it harder to place when a photograph was taken. For example, the above image from 100 Faces was taken in 2017. But the way the gentleman is dressed, his hairstyle, and lack of color gives the overall photograph a very vintage feel. The photo could have easily been taken in the 1930-50s. One of the many things I love about the photo is not being able to place the time period. Which is also one of the many reasons I love black-and-white photography. Compare it to the color version below and you may agree.
To my second point regarding the use of black-and-white, I also chose this format due to the emphasis it creates. Color can distract, especially if the subject chooses to wear something bright and bold. When I approached strangers on the street, they would often be wearing bold pops of color (especially in Summer). Removing the color forces the viewer to focus more on the face. It is called 100 Faces after all. Now that color is absent, viewers can take in the finer details of the image. A scar on the cheek, the coarseness of someone’s facial hair, the texture in their clothing, etc. I believe it makes for a stronger impact for this project specifically.
Don’t get me wrong, I love color, but as an artist you choose the format you think will best suit the project. I could have chosen color for 100 Faces and the images would have still be strong. But for maximum impact, for my money, black-and-white was the way to go.
I hope you enjoyed this little write up and will come out to the exhibition. I’ll be posting once a week from now until the show sharing my thoughts and any other interesting info regarding the project.
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