I wish we didn’t call it black and white. Because what we are actually interested in are the things in between, the shades of gray. And we have a lot more than fifty to play with.
Grayscale photography can easily be seen as old fashioned. Naturally, since grays were around a hundred years before colors. Grayscale shows less. It reveals less. It tells us less about the subject. Hence it is easy to argue that color is the better way to go since it contains more information. But if we follow that reasoning, the best way is high resolution video. And Virtual reality is just around the corner it seems.
But what if your intentions are not to show and tell everything? Perhaps we want to hide some parts, in order to reveal other parts? That is probably why the strip tease was invented. Besides, we are already hiding sound, motion, smell, touch and even lots of context by dabbling in still photography. I like to think of photography more as commentary than documentary. Instead of giving people answers, I am much more interested in giving them questions. To that end grayscale photography is stellar, at least in my mind. It has great potential for mystery, which is one of my favorite ingredients in a good photograph.
Another ingredient I savor is texture. Details. Lines in a face, marks on a floor, small chips on a painted object. What the Japanese call Wabi Sabi; beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Detail and texture often take second rank in color photography, not to mention in videography. In my opinion, grayscale photography excels in bringing out the minute details and faint traces – if that is something you want to emphasize. Especially with a good lens at hand.
Black and white is easy to come by. One click in Photoshop is all it takes. Visualizing in black and white, on the other hand, is not that easy. How to find subjects which look good without color. More often than not the approach is to shoot it in color, and then wait and see if it turns out in gray or not. This is a kind of safety net, but in my opinion it also takes something away: the chance of failure increases concentration. Increased concentration means better pictures and more thrill. At least it felt like that for me, with a camera that only shoots grayscale. It made the choice for me, as I largely abandoned colors for my personal photography. Who wants to play a computer game with unlimited lives?
I still shoot colors for my work in the news media. But video content becomes increasingly important. Readers want information, and video is the king of that. At the same rate, my personal photography becomes more of a refuge for me, a place for contemplation. And as the world ever speeds up, a place to stop and wonder.
Bent Are Iversen 2014