2nd July 2015 – Mark Simmons and Black and White

Mark Simmons was our speaker last meeting, a Bristol based photographer since 1985 Mark took us through some of the opportunities and causes he has been involved in over the last 30 years. He mainly concentrated on black and white work, though showed us some colour work of his too and posed some open ended questions, namely What makes a good photograph? and What comes next?

 

If I were to sum up Mark’s choices in photography in one word it would be “Eclectic“. Personal, political, spiritual, progressive, street, arts. He represents his world through the medium of the lens and monetarises it. It’s the way he makes his living. He talked about film and digital and whereas he is quite nostalgic for the former he works in the latter, though not exclusively. Black and white was really the choice when he started. Developing colour films has always been more involved, costly and time consuming than black and white and though perfectly feasible these factors meant that black and white was the only choice for those starting out developing their own images and those on a tight budget.

 

Now it is a no cost extra, ignored by many amateurs and often regarded as niche or specialist, with its own publications such as Adore Noire and even its own dedicated Leica camera line, the Monochrom Typ 246 range finder with a 50mm f1.2. Less complex in the sensor design it gives sharper results and less problems with artefacts (apparently). What is more one pixel on its monochrome sensor is doing the job of four (two greens one red one blue) on a colour sensor, so detail is more effectively rendered. It’s a snip at £4,500, but hey, it’s a Leica and you get a free Lightroom license with it. Whether this constitutes a bargain is contestable and it does rather reinforce the exclusive, arty view of black and white, even if it delivers a claimed 100% more detail than a colour sensor. This is a shame as black and white has its own aesthetics, its own strengths and it does get overlooked. For many of us I suspect it goes something like this….

 

“That would look better in black and white”. We’ve all said it. We’ve all done it. Sometimes we were right. Sometimes it was the fundamental composition that was wrong. Nothing to be done with that, apart from applying the delete button. If the fundamentals don’t work, no matter how much we wish them to, it’s a loss. I am not advocating not learning from our losses, that would be a chronic waste of time, but we don’t learn much from failing to rescue the not worth preserving to the status of still-should-have-pressed-the-delete-key-and-saved-x-hours, or, more succinctly, reviving the dead to the status of the un-dead. What that constitutes in reality is a matter of personal taste and judgement.

 

“That would look better in black and white”, or, if we are in posh company, or trying to sound like we know what we are talking about, monochrome,we have probably already taken the picture before the thought strikes. There is a solution, which I will come back to later, which at first is obvious, but which can make the most of both worlds and can make us look at things anew. First, however, it’s time to visit some things we already know, or at least know about. Is there a difference? I would say emphatically yes and the difference is knowing about something is being able to theorise that in these set of circumstances this will happen and owning that knowledge by using it with purpose and confidence. Learning is about the transition between one and the other and it’s not always obvious when we arrive at the latter.

 

Black and white is different from colour in the obvious and not so obvious. The obvious of course is the reduction in the colours we are presented with. More properly we are talking about the difference between grey scale and the gamut of colour our monitors generate – most likely sRGB. The black and the white represents extremes between which we have the grey scale. Absolute black and absolute white are theoretical points, but the question of how black is black and white is white need not concern us here. Our brains interpret these things and we get on with life. We are told that black and white makes us concentrate on subject, form, shape, tonality and texture. This is, of course, because colour has a range of psychological effects on the human brain. Physiologically we use the cones in the eye to see colours and rods black and white. Rods and cones are photoreceptors, like the pixels on a camera sensor, and take their names from their distinctive shapes. The rods and cones generate signals which the brain transforms into images to which it attaches meaning. The primary colours, in particular exercise a strong emotional effect on us, more so than the secondary colours.

 

Deprive the brain of these clues and it continues to search for meaning in patterns, which promotes the importance of subject through form, shape tonality and texture. We still connect but in a different way. If we are lucky the elements of form, shape, tonality and texture have already made their link if only subconsciously. Then, we might safely arrive sooner at the delayed conclusion “That would look better in black and white”.

 

Better yet is to start from the position of black and white, the technique I was referring to earlier, that is to say the camera is set to black and white deliberately at the point of capture. This is where a CSC really comes into its own with a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) viewfinder/screen as some, if not many DSLR’s render as black and white only after the event as an editing choice (in which case save it until you get home and do it on the computer). If shooting RAW and Jpeg with the JPEG set to black and white as default we don’t, on a CSC at least, loose the colour option as RAW files are rendered in colour by default. What we can learn is to see those forms, shapes tonalities and textures as a critical starting point not a lifeline to the already drowned.

 

A N N O U N C E M E N T S

Something worth your consideration if you ever want to take a picture in the street again is something called the Freedom of Panorama and it is under threat (sort of). You might also want to sign the petition at the bottom of the article .Freedom of Panorama. In the interests of balance  I would also say is that this is at the consultation stage, hasn’t been presented to the European Parliament for any legislative action (yet) but it still needs consideration and this is your chance to make opposition felt before it has the chance to gain any momentum. I would also point out that Mr Wales has a vested interest in such a possibility being put in place and this is an opinion piece in the Guardian, not a piece of investigative journalism. So for a bit of balance I would also read this from Full Facts (and still sign it).

 

N E X T  M E E T I N G – Important information.

Our season at the school has drawn to a close. Please check the events clandar on the club website for details of meetings over the summer.

 

 MiniGroup