Photography has existed for hundreds and thousands of years. It is described in Greek books written some 2000 years ago, as a device by which one could watch the eclipse of the sun without damaging one’s eyes. And later, it was a much loved device among painters in the dark ages, used to create accurate copies, and exact portraits. All of this by way of the camera obscura, which was basically a dark room with a very small hole that allowed the picture to enter the room and be projected on the wall opposite the opening. It was only in the early 19th century, that pioneer photographers devised a way to print the image on a page. And though color photography came to this world at the beginning of the 20th century, black and white remained the standard till the 1960s, and many fine art photographers preferred black and white till the arrival of digital photography.
Since the invention of modern photography, there were many special effects that stimulated enthusiastic responses over the years, including cinema, color photography, 3D photography, and others. But the standard black and white photograph was dependable, relatively easy to use, and proved over the years that it could open a world of possibilities. Color and 3D were always in competition with reality. But black and white remained a parable, and as such, did not compete with reality as we know it. It reminded us continuously of the reality we saw with our eyes, but never quite touched it.
My own love affair with photography started in my youth and continued through my life. I loved the art, and the technology, and became a professional photographer, and had numerous periods in my life where I devoted myself to certain aspects, media, and equipment that are part of this occupation. I loved working with large negatives, which by their nature are able to hold enormous amounts of information. In the area of high resolution, large format photography, film is still able to produce results that are unequalled by digital photography, but it seems that digital equipment is fast catching up.
The image above, of the window, is an image that I fell in love with at first sight. And over the years, I have returned to that image and re-photographed it with different media, and different cameras. But this original picture still hangs in my dining room, and forever reminds me of that night, long ago, when I printed the first print of that picture with a very old fashioned enlarger, and trays of chemicals in a room illuminated by a red bulb. I have enjoyed some of the variations. The color version of this photograph, that was taken years later, became quite popular. I have done a panoramic version, and eventually a digital version too.
One of the advantages of black and white is that it has a longer life expectancy. Color dyes fade in time. Both on negatives and on prints. Digital media has a short life span too, from what I’ve heard. But I have printed negatives for the museum here, that were older than 150 years, and all of the information was there. And I was able to provide beautiful prints from the excellent negatives.
Up until the digital period, there were many reasons to consider if you were going to photograph in color or black and white. And once you made your choice, you already had a film in the camera, Many photographers found it easier to work with black and white, because one was able to use the red light to see, while printing pictures. When working with color, one had to work in complete darkness. I personally had a wide variety of tools and equipment, as well as a large collection of cameras, but aside from the fact that I could work with color without problem, and many of my customers demanded color for their industrial and advertising needs, I found myself often going back to black and white for any number of reasons, ranging from limitations that one found in artificial light, and all the way back to seeing the black and white as a parable, or an analogy. Often, it was more comfortable for me to work with it.
Now, in the digital age, one does not have to wait to put a different film in the camera. One can change from black and white to color and back again with each picture. One can change the sensitivity of the camera with each picture, or change the white balance. We have the advantage of much greater flexibility. On the other hand, it seems to me that the digital cameras are more friendly to color use, and one has to know more about photography in order to elicit the full power of black and white from the color camera.