Several days ago, a friend of mine posted a black and white photograph on Facebook along with the hashtag #bwchallenge. Unbeknownst to me, this is a thing. It’s sort of like the ice bucket challenge, only drier. Some of the world’s best photographers have taken the challenge and are posting black and white photography across social media platforms.
My Facebook friend is Michael Madrid. He and I worked on the college newspaper together back when newspaper photographers were denizens of the darkroom. He is now senior photo editor for USA Today. The photos he is contributing to the challenge are from a project he did in Iraq and they are absolutely arresting. I asked him when he prefers black and white photography and this is what he wrote back. — Clay
The photograph on the left illustrates a prime element of the black and white aesthetic, focusing the viewers’ eye on the heart of the photograph. The second photograph illustrates the color distraction quite well. …
In the black and white version, you are drawn to her eyes immediately, despite the bright area behind her. In the color version, your eye picks up all the bright spots of color and yes, eventually you get to her eyes, but not until YOUR eyes put in the work first, bouncing around to all the bright color spots searching for the heart of the image.
Black and White and gray photographs are gritty, evocative, dramatic, emotional, impactful and many more things to many more photographers. For me, the black and white photograph presents the “content” of the image at a base level without the distraction of color; the message is not watered down. It’s not that black and white photography is necessarily more powerful than color photography; it’s just different.
And I’m not an “all or nothing” kind of guy. Some of my own favorite photographs are color or even ‘colour’ to my thinking. An Elliott Porter dye transfer print of “Pool in a Brook, Pond Brook, near Whiteface, NH” from 1953 is simply amazing. It would not have the power it does if it was a black and white image.
Love it or hate it, black and white photography is here to stay. Decide for yourself.
— Michael Madrid