Back to Black

The enduring appeal of black & white

Back to Black
Photo: Ephemera by Annette Lepple

Since Competition 5 we started the year with the Monochrome Photo Project, which became one of our two main annual Photo Projects, encouraging photographers to focus on a particular photographic skill. Fast forward to 2017 in Competition 11 and the IGPOTY team have decided to turn the Monochrome into Black & White. Here’s why.

Monochrome has produced some fantastic imagery but the overarching job of the photo projects, as stated, is to really ask photographers to focus on just one area of photography and make the task as elegant and as simple as possible, resulting in similar outcomes. Clearer objectives often result in clearer artistic expressions, which definitely helps judges when trying to work out the meaning and message behind an image.

Indeed there are different skills involved in monochromatic photography than black & white, because of course, there is colour! The move to black & white seemed logical and relevant, particularly as black & white has so much more to offer the ever-growing genre of garden photography. To reinforce this message, it’s important to make a differentiation and champion the many qualities of black & white as an essential part of the competition oeuvre.

Mark Bentley, deputy editor of Black+White Photography magazine, said: “Gardens and the natural world can often look stunning in black & white. When colour is removed from an image, the shapes, textures and patterns become stronger. And when the weather is grim, the light can play a crucial role in the mood of your picture.”

This strength which Mark alludes to is present in many garden scenes and has the potential to produce potent images. Shoot for black & white with the intent on seeing black & white - don’t go for the easy conversion of a shot you thought looked good in colour. This is about tapping into an underlying presence that enhances an image and makes us feel something different.

But don’t be scared to push the boundaries. Black & white isn’t the sole preserve of bleak winter scenes. The opportunity to develop a positive mood through the lack of colour still feels bold and refreshing. The underlying darkness of black & white is much too easy to associate with negative emotions; indeed it may take some effort to see through this darkness and feel uplifted by the subject matter. It is this effort which often gives us that sense of satisfaction and it is this sense of satisfaction that gives an image a winning emotional response.

Black & white is rightly considered a classic way to present photography, yet classic garden and nature scenes both in print and online is still predominantly the realm of colour imagery. This seems natural and right, we are after all, a species which enjoys life through the visible spectrum of colours and enjoy having that full visual experience repeated back to us through imagery and art. So are we naturally biased toward colours in all visual pursuits?

It may be that our biological origins reflect our current cultural and technological traditions. It is a shared responsibility to question these predilections and there is no better medium for this than photography. Black & white is more than the removal of colour, it has the potential to tell us about us who we are and the kind of art we seek to produce.

You never know, the next true classic garden shot you take may very well have no colour at all.

Sometimes black & white can dwell in the past, at other times it is a product of modernity, but at all times it has the potential for immense inspiration.

And inspiration is what we’re all about.