Street Photography. The Black and White Myth

The Escalators in Guinness Brewery

Colour or Black and White?

This is a question a lot full time photographers hear more than any other, and if I was to be completely honest, there is no clear answer. I can however tell you how the move to Black and White began, and this might go some way to explaining the myth, and the drive, behind it’s popularity.



Let’s begin with a cousin of printed photography, printed paper. You don’t have to go too far back to find a big difference in the cost of printing, which could in itself be reflective of the cost of photography. As an example, in 2005 the cost of producing a Xerox colour print page was 9.3c, whereas it’s black and white counterpart was a measly 2c or less. Ok, now we are discussing ink, which can vary in price for many different reasons, but the premise is the same. Cost.

The printers were also very different, but the actual price variant wasn’t as much as people think. Take the Office HP Laser Jet, and the Colour version as an example. The Black and White Laser cost $1,599 whereas the colour version cost around $200 more. It was the Speed differences which were obvious though, with the Black and White Churning out paper pages at a rate much higher then colour, up to 55pm compared to 22.

But why is this information important I hear you ask? Well it’s the year, 2005, which is really important. This was the year the first Ditigal Cameras, around since 1995, became the modern bohemeths they are today, and this was also the year printing and it’s modern equipment first developed. However, there were the first baby steps of the modern machine, now we have to go back to when colour became available, not only to film makers but to the average person.



1935 brought about the advent of Kadachome, a three layered version for colour filming in 16mm. It was restrictive, as the 35mm photographic film only came in short lengths, so it was hard to market. The first fully coloured Feature Film was the 1939, and Gone with the Wind, so this will show you how new the process was.

The problem which greatly affected all these early Cameras though, and still does today, was low light. Indoor photography away from natural light was poor, and dark areas required a flash, so hobbiest stayed true to black and white till at least the seventies due to cost. You have to wonder how this would have affected Vivian Maier and other street photographers, and if they did take coloured versions of their classics which have never been found.


The Digital Age

The Mid 1990’s to the Mid 2,000’s touted the beginning of the end for film photography in the main. There are still lovers of the genre and users of the equipment, but the majority of people changed over to experience a camera which could take both black and white and colour, without having to change film.

The inbuilt flash of the late seventies helped pave the way for colour cameras to become a favourite of enthusiasts, but not until the advent of the Digital Camera did it become the Norm. To this day, some people simply prefer the look the old film negatives gave you, so it’s very unlikely Digital development will change their minds.


The Art of Photography

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, is the old saying, and never was it more true then in Photography. A lot of people question the use of colour for artistic means, focussing instead on the reason behind the photograph and it’s simplicity in Monochrome or Sepia, but an attitude like this can hinder the development of the photographer. Try taking photographs in colour and rendering them, then bring them in to Photoshop and create a collage to compare. Remember, as the photographer and owner of your own piece of art, only you can ultimately decide how it should be viewed. Be swayed only by your own artistic values.





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