Travelling: It’s Not All Black And White
The setting’s only half the story. Your own experiences, thoughts and emotions fill in the colours in the photographs of your travels.
By Lizi Woolgar
Black and white photography, in my very own and personal opinion, seems to breed much more powerful and emotional images than coloured photography.
But why oh why is this the case?
Experimental psychologists (way, way back) found that that if a man is confined to a room with no light, smell, or anything to touch, “the victim will very soon start ‘seeing things’, ‘hearing things’ and having strange bodily sensations” (Huxley). This lack of anything to stimulate the senses might well provide the transporting power to elsewhere. And of course, this is in terms of, the lack of colour in black and white photographs to stimulate the senses.
You see, emphasis has historically been put on colour in art to illicit some form of emotional response. But if there is no colour, how are we supposed to know what to feel? Because there is nothing to make us feel something, we have to fill it in ourselves, maybe by visiting the subconscious area of our mind.
I strongly agree with is Huxley’s idea that “familiarity breeds indifference”. In other words, colour, in the past, was a ‘costly rarity’, with paintings, tapestries, homes etc. being dominated by earthy colours. Because we now live in the modern world of flashy billboards and in-your-face computer graphics, we might have become immune to the (previously) startling effects of bright, colourful photography.
Evidently, photography was more or less strictly black and white until the 20th century. Up until roughly the early 70s, “most ‘serious’ photographers had regarded colour photography as ‘vulgar’” (Gerry Badger), but the view gradually changed when their images (not in colour) were so far out from reality. This brings me to the proposition that black and white photography is now innately and subconsciously considered by us as history. Think about black and white photos you have seen. The majority of them, not to put it crudely, will likely have been in a history lesson, of some kind of heart-wrenching wartime image. Perhaps then, the nostalgia that these photos bring, might be why we feel so much more than we literally see in this sort of photography. Perhaps our eyes add life and emotion into a still image because of the connections we have previously, unintentionally made throughout our life.
I do believe that black and photography possesses a power over us that colour photography can’t, but I just can’t quite seem to put my finger on it. But that’s exactly it, isn’t it? And as Robert Frank once said, I agree that “Black and white are the colours of photography”.