Is Black and White Really Dead?

Throughout the course of my current photographic project, I have been at turmoil with myself as I try to decide whether to present my work in black and white or colour. I have seen much speculation recently as to whether black and white photography is ‘cool’ or ‘cliche’ in the present day, which lead me to find an article by David Geffin at discussing ‘Why It’s Still Important to Shoot In Black and White’, which I found fantastically reassuring.

Geffin discusses how the absence of colour helps to emphasise emotion and this is perhaps one of the most important aspects of my own photography, particularly in my current exploration of family, homesickness, isolation, and a sense of belonging (or lack of). Colour, Geffin argues, often distracts the subject and therefore shooting in black and white allows for a stronger emotional connection experienced by the viewer, which he illustrates with a photograph of his showing a couple kissing. He maintains, “If this was in color, you’d have at least 4 colors in the background and middle ground elements alone, excluding the colors of their clothing and bags. Instead I just focused straight on the split second connection between them as they share a kiss”. I can’t help but agree with him.

David Geffin

With reassurance from Geffin, I decided to shoot some photos in black and white during a visit home for my sister’s 16th birthday, in addition to raw colour images. When compared, I felt compelled to favour the black and white shots since they communicate a completely different message, in my opinion, through the simple lack of colour.

Chanelle Manton, Mother and Sister Embrace (2016)
Chanelle Manton, Mother and Sister Embrace (2016)

The black and white seems to portray the emotional connection in this photograph which much more conviction that the coloured one. As Geffin suggested, I think that the colour distracts from the focus (the embrace that my mother and sister share) and so this moment is emphasised greatly through the use of black and white. In addition, I would like to think that the second photo communicates something about my own mental state when taking this quick, spontaneous photograph. I wanted to capture this real moment and the blur, accompanied with the black and white, aims to create this desperation to immortalise an important and emotional embrace between my mother and my sister on her 16th birthday.

Appropriately, Geffin also discusses the timeless quality achieved through black and white photography, which is something else I have been considering in my own work. A great part of my project is trying to capture moments of my own life and family to preserve my ‘sense of place’ which, as Geffin maintains, can be done effectively through black and white to create ambiguity and an air of mystery, as colour can often be much more indicative of periods in time.

David Geffin

“Again this dapper fellow looks like he could easily have been out of the 1950s. Color in the subway, and the person in the background would have certainly not created as much ambiguity in the image” (Geffin,  2014)

And most importantly, in my opinion, Geffin discusses how the use of black and white helps both the photographer and the viewer see light differently, which is something I have been investigating in my own work.

Chanelle Manton, My Old Room (2016)
Chanelle Manton, My Old Room (2016)

I fell in love with the coloured version of this photograph as soon as I took it. The light from the landing outside my old bedroom created this beautiful composition as I was lying in bed and I scrambled clumsily to capture it, as it seemed to communicate something to me about being ‘home’ (since I practically live in a hotel room in Brighton with no light source other than an overhead ceiling light which is incredibly bright and almost office-like). However, in black and white this seemed to say something completely different, creating a much more lonely, isolated composition.

I would happily shoot in black and white for the rest of my photographic endeavours, however I do feel there are occasions where colour simply can’t be replaced.

Chanelle Manton, Bella’s Flat (2016)

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