To talk about Black and White photography in today’s digital era, may seem pointless.
Each day hundreds of colour images fill our vision and enchant us like the mermaids of Ulysses.
The world of colour photography certainly offers us visual solutions more suited to everyday experiences, while Black and White photography provides us images that need to be reflected and carefully meditated upon. In short, they don’t generate direct emotions; they need to be researched, slowly savoured, in the way a sommelier tastes a fine wine.
Taking a photograph today often means carrying out a compulsive behaviour as is described in detail by the psychoanalyst Carlo Riggi in his book “The exuberance of shadow”: “It’s quite natural today for photographers to be completely disinterested in the actual scene itself, giving greater importance to checking the result of every shot on the digital camera’s screen - in this respect they react like mothers-to-be who start booking ultrasound scans from the very first month of pregnancy: but can they really see the baby as soon as he or she is conceived?!
Reality is broken down, overcomes imagination and creates a barrier against emotional experiences.
The image displayed on the monitor totally eradicates the emotion that it should evoke, brutally cancelling it. Checking the result immediately after having taken the photograph breaks both the tension and the spell, substituting emotion with reality. Those who love the language of Black and White photography don’t allow themselves to be swept away by this frenzied activity, almost iconoclastic, but follow their own inspiration, acheiving their own personal style, without persuing the latest fashions, and do not aimlessly leap with thoughtless indifference from landscape to portrait or architectural photography.
They limit their creative and artistic vision to that which best represents their own inner character.
Fortunately it’s still easy to find film dedicated to Black and White photography today, giving the photographer the opportunity to opt for a meditated artistic choice. Often however, most amateur photograpers only possesses one digital camera and therefore don’t have the option to photograph in Black and White (the only digital camera on the market today dedicated entirely to Black and White photography is the LEICA MONOCHROM), and have to “artificially” convert colour photographs into Black and White. This is a serious cultural limitation...
This limitation undermines the foundations of B/W photography: “The fundamentals of tonal values”. To fully understand the difference between the gradual “stretching out” of a dark shadow towards the light, as an expression of extreme tranquillity and dreamlike oblivion, and the sudden change from black to white to convey pathos, drama or even a violent movement in order to convey the basics of an expressive prerogative, is absolutely vital for transferring feelings and emotions in an abstract but psycologically structured language. Let’s not forget the choice between Low and High key, both closely linked to the artistic sensitivity and very often to the state of mind of the photographer.
As a final note, photographers who feel an overwhelming desire to express their creativity through Black and White photography, need to strive to acquire the crucially important ability to see in Black and White; to formulate a clear picture of the final image in their mind and how it should appear in print, even before pressing the shutter.