PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: My brother raised the question this time when he asked in response to yesterday’s post, “Cogs,” if I had tried it in color. When I first went digital I shot only color, and I recall a photographer friend who campaigned for me to start shooting in monochrome, and there was a time before that when I had access to a dark room and shot only monochrome. Some photographers tell me it’s not art unless it’s black and white, and I know others who would convince me monochrome is an artsy affectation of another age; they call it “pretentious.”
For me, monochrome is just another way by which I can try to abstract the realities of the routine in an effort to make them reverberate in a wider cultural space. How an image is to be processed, whether it is to be presented in color or monochrome or is to be bleached out or burned in or manipulated in an infinite number of other ways comes from the image itself. Monochrome has a unique set of virtues and vices. Some feel it always evokes a bygone time. Sometimes misplaced color disrupts composition. Switching to monochrome can reveal the problem, and offers an approach to solving it. Monochrome can filter irrelevancy. There are photographs that only work in monochrome, just as there are photographs that only work in color. There are no aesthetic laws governing the use and abuse of the saturation sliders.
I wonder if other photographers have adopted this practice: I will often do both monochrome and color versions, and when I find myself preferring one, I challenge myself to make the other one better. However, it soon becomes clear to me why I prefer one or the other approach. In the case of yesterday’s image I chose monochrome because color seemed superfluous. It added nothing - became a distraction from the utter simplicity of the image. However, pulling back a bit to reveal more of the old hand cart and background, the subtle interplay of blue-grey and rose-gray tonalities makes something new of the same subject as it gives it scale. As B&W seemed essential to the former image, color feels to me necessary here; I can’t remove it without feeling the result is less. The image determines processing choices.
I’ve been lucky enough to be able to shoot in what may be the largest derelict mill in the Naugatuck Valley. It is filled with nooks and crannies and cathedral-like halls and catwalks and snaking, subterranean catacombs of darkness. However, for the past three visits I’ve been lured back to an office, hung between two giant cathedral-like sheds where every sunny afternoon the light streams through broken roof and rafter and through dusty windows into a loft-like attic space that was once the engineers’ office. I was here once in 2011 and photographed it then when it was filled with stuff. It has been emptied since. This cart and gears and the filtered beam of afternoon light that moves across the floor as I roll the hand-cart, they are among the few survivals along with a wall calendar dated 1989.