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Tag Archives: Black and White

I’ve been to Ramsgate many times, but as with all places, I see something new every time I visit. To see beyond the obvious facade of everyday life, its structures and its seeming banalities, to see the potential for beauty and impact, is, for me, the thrill of photography.

I snap, yes, to catch the moment of light, shadow, tone, or form. No set-up or pre-planning for me. But through considered editing and the push and pull of my limited knowledge of the tools at my disposal, I draw out what I knew was there before I could technically ‘see’ it. I hope you enjoy them!

These photos were taken with a Nikon D5100 / 18-140mm Nikon lens and edited with Adobe Photoshop

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No Time

On Tuesday, at a time when I would normally be hunched, neckless and taut and squinting at a familiar illuminated screen, I was instead settling myself into a First Great Western corner seat and making my way to Oxford. Having not been to the city since a visit as a small child, I had hazy memories; it was Old, of course. My trip allowed me little time to take in any more of the city than my walk from the station to my destination, and back again, but interestingly my preconceptions based on childhood memories were vastly different to what I found.

Perhaps some parts of Oxford are Harry Potter-esque; magical and bursting at the seams with historical tales just begging to be dramatised by out of work actors leading local walking tours. The walk from the station to the new home of the Story Museum does not take in these sights. More like local seedy nightclubs and streams filled with rubbish, but in a way that worked for me and my trusty Nikon. The day was extremely dull. That light rain which has no redeeming features soaking everyone slowly and miserably, pairing up with the biting wind to form a two-pronged, spiteful winter weather attack. I knew instantly that the majority of the photos would end up in black and white. Natural colour was almost absent from the oxford city palette on that day, so it seemed pertinent to help it along its way and focus mainly on tone, contrast and a little experimentation.

On arriving at the Story Museum, for the Action for Children’s Arts AGM, we were treated to a guided tour of their new home, conjuring the image of what it is to become. Ready for conversion and refurbishment, the dilapidated building was a photographer’s dream. Well, a photographer like me anyway, whose particular interest lies in details and unusual composition. Lots of bits falling off of this and things stuck on that; strange objects and random placings. Perfect. What resulted from the day are shown below, with an extended selection on Flickr shortly…enjoy.

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More of the Same

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An Invitation

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Butterflies Flutterby

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Linear

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Fat Cats

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Workshop

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Menacing Illumination

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Guitar

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No Cycling

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The Shire

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18

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Look

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Capillaries

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Silent Treatment

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Modern Art

William Klein, Bikini, Moscow, 1959. Image courtesy of Tate

Have you spoken to a single person who doesn’t like black and white photography? Those who look disdainfully at monochrome images, convinced of their lesser artistic capacity? If so, they are surely in the minority. It seems to be ingrained in our modern aesthetic values that when it comes to colour and photography, less is more.

A rather generalistic statement I admit, and one which doesn’t come without a good few exceptions. But, from my own experience certainly, black and white appears to be favourite, particularly when capturing gritty city scenes, or images with an element of sinister undertone. Perhaps it is because it is unusual to our visual senses; we see in colour. To observe a scene which we know intellectually is in colour, but is in our visual field desaturated, may be intriguingly unusual to us. Perhaps it is less fundamental; more closely linked to social conditioning, culture, environment. To a large proportion of society, (and particularly my generation, brought up on a bloated diet of Hollywood blockbusters) the American film industry’s perception and subsequent projection of morals, life plans, love and everything else, was indoctrinated in us from an early age. We lapped it up; the escapist dream delivered to our doors in brightly coloured tardis-esque 80’s Video Vans. Even back then we understood that black and white films were adult, and thus, boring. Of course, that’s because they actually were adult. TV and film in black and white was reserved for the memory of our grandparents’ childhood, or intellectual art-house films frequented by beardy oxford types with glasses, smoking cigarillos (I want to be that cliche).

In the days when all films were in black and white and the Hollywood industry had yet to discover emotional subtlety in filmmaking, it was just the way it was. Viewers were astounded when the first technicolor film was released; ironic really, as colour is actually more natural to us than black and white. In short, society has been increasingly prompted to associate monochrome with maturity, sophistication and glamour; ‘classic’ black and white. The anti-colours. Dark, brooding, the shade of midnight and the stage-set to most of our irrational fears. The psychological associations of black and white in our culture and consciousness go far deeper than visual art, but suffice it to say that we do afford it a certain artistic significance when it comes to this, particularly in photography.

Daido Moriyama – Provoke no. 2 1969 (printed 2012). Image courtesy of Tate

The William Klein and Daido Moriyama exhibition at Tate Modern showcases in parallel the work of these two key figures in photography over the past 60 years. The exhibition is set out almost as two mini-exhibitions which follow one another, the links between the two artists being suggested by their successive placing but not creating a direct comparison in the line of sight. By utilising this curating method the Tate allows the viewer to draw their own comparisons through memory of just-seen images. The immediate similarity is of course the choice to shoot almost exclusively in monochrome. William Klein, whose dramatic photography adorns the walls of the first 6 or so galleries, captures subjects in their immediate moment. His documentary style is perfected by his ability to portray the scene as if he were not there, as if you, the viewer, are there in that moment. Many of those whom look at the camera give the impression of glancing over your face on their way to something more interesting, others seem completely at ease. It is a singular skill perhaps borne from the knowledge of how to make yourself nonthreatening or inconspicuous to those around you, and likely an element of luck and dogged persistence. Either way, it instills the photographs with unpretentious, genuine drama and voyeurism. For Klein’s images, like Moriyama’s, succeed in conveying both the gritty, tumultuous drama of charged events, as well as the staid reality of everyday in downtown ’60s New York or Tokyo.

William Klein – Armistice Day 1968. Image from Tumblr: dandismodextrarradio

William Klein – Gun 2 New York 1955. Image from Photoforager

William Klein – Elsa Maxwell’s Tory ball, Waldorf Hotel, New York 1955. Image from 1000 Words Photography

Like Klein, Moriyama also began experimenting with manipulative photographic techniques and sometimes other media altogether. But it is clear that both always believed photography to be their fundamental means of expression. Klein’s forays into paint, architecture and sketching always took photography as their basis and attempted to build on it; similarly, Moriyama’s film experiments looked to push the photograph beyond its static boundaries.

William Klein – Dakar, school’s out, 1985. Painted contact 1998. Image courtesy of Tate

They freely recognised the pure motives behind their work. It was refreshing to read Moriyama speak of  photography as “not a means by which to create beautiful art, but a unique way of encountering genuine reality“. A simple, honest and entirely worthwhile explanation for his craft. The beauty of life. Those who love art create it, buy it, view it, read about it, but those who do not consider themselves to be interested in art are mistaken. Their lives are art, each moment a missed Moriyama. The sea-swell of anger through a crowd, a glittering night out in the big city, the frustration or loneliness of a forgotten soul; all unique moments passing by, crying out to be frozen for dramatic effect, but missed. If you take one thing from this exhibition let it be the desire to seek out those seconds; commit them to suspension and allow them to enlighten you. We are art, our lives are art and everything we create. You are an artist.

William Klein – Kiev Railway Station, Moscow 1959. Image from ukhudshanskiy

William Klein – Piazza di Spagna, Rome 1960. Image courtesy of Tate

Daido Moriyama – Memory of Dog 2, 1982. Image courtesy of Tate

William Klein – Gun1 New York City, 1954. Image from Kroutchev Planet Photo

Daido Moriyama – DOCUMENTARY ’78 (’86.4 Setagaya-Ku, Tokyo), 1986. Image courtesy of Tate

William Klein – Candy Store, New York, 1955. Image courtesy of Tate