ST. PAUL'S B&W : FINAL VERSION
This week I'd like to continue to encourage you to back up your archived photos, especially the important ones, and to explore new paths in processing them. I recently had another hard drive begin to act up, and at least I had the presence of mind to by a new one and start to transfer things around. Unfortunately the "seamless" system I had set up was anything but, and I have spent a week rescuing images from the ranks of "the missing." In order to make some lemonade out of lemons, I have also taken the opportunity to convert some of these saved images into black and white and have reinvigorated them, at least in my mind. I invite you on a tour of Great Britain, circa 2008, when Fran and I visited Benjamin, who was finishing up a semester at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich.
PEDESTRIAN TRAINING B&W : FINAL VERSION
The first thing we noticed was that efforts to save "colonials" were advancing apace throughout London, even if the cautionary sign painters hadn't yet refined the proper spacing between words. Black and white often works well in night shots because we accept higher levels of contrast than in color images, and of course they look more natural, because we tend to think that the sky is black, even if it really is not.
HORSE GUARDS PARADE B&W : FINAL VERSION
We also usually accept white skies, even though they are usually the result of misbegotten exposures. We learned to accept them long ago because early black and white film was not very sensitive to blue, so rendered it in white. By the time the chemists improved the films, we had accepted this abstract notion. This area behind the government buildings in "White Hall", is where the Queen's Horse Guards prance before the public, hence its name. The recent London Wheel provides an interesting geometric contrast in the distance.
STAIRS AND STRIPES B&W : FINAL VERSION
Sometimes I convert to black and white out of shear obstinacy, to allow for the inclusion of an image into a collection of monochrome images like this one, or to challenge myself. This image is all about color - the contrast between the red and white bricks on this office building somewhat out of place in the white district of Whitehall. Polychromatic architecture plays on this contrast, especially when it is literally striped across a facade. With black and white I lose the red, but can make it any shade of grey I desire, and can also cut down the glare on those windows. It doesn't take an architect to surmise that they light up a staircase within.
CHELSEA CATHEDRAL B&W : FINAL VERSION
While the color version of this image is very attractive, with golden hour enhancing the sandstone's hues, the black and white version has its own charms. Since I feel the real power of the image is the shadows of the flying buttresses, black and white will enhance this contrast. Emphasis on the stone's color is gone, but the texture and age of the stone is really brought out in monochrome.
ST. STEPHEN WALBROKE B&W : FINAL VERSION
This Hawksmoor church in the East End shows the ability of black and white to remove color's distractions and to subtly remove historical context. While we know that this image is not a Nineteenth Century image of a Seventeenth Century Church, the image itself offers few clues. Black and white allows me to mute the red car in the foreground when magic processing efforts to remove it failed.
THE MUFFIN MAN B&W : FINAL VERSION
"Do you know the Muffin Man, he lives on Drury Lane?" This nursery rhyme come to life is in Covent Garden, and the only thing in the original photo that is not grey is the red brick surround. Since I want you to appreciate the folk sculpture, the red brick only distracts. Black and White also lets me realistically darken the sculpture's background, literally highlighting it within the stone frame.
TWO WINDOWS B&W : FINAL VERSION
The color version of this image shows off the beautiful shades of red brick masonry. But the black and white version emphasizes the textures of the facade, and the exuberant nature of the detailing. And of course my overexposed sky looks better as white in black and white than white in color we just accept the abstraction, instead of noticing the mistake.
TURBINE HALL B&W : FINAL VERSION
Black and white allows me to convert what might be just a tourist snap into my attempt at art photography. This is one of the newer grand interior spaces in London, at the Tate Modern, an art museum which adapted a defunct power station in a noted example of adaptive reuse. I've made the image about the contrast between the windows and the skylights and the dim interior space. This contrast is overblown, but doesn't "look wrong", as it would in color. The murky shadows only seem to emphasize the vastness of the interior. My fellow humans are now only for scale - the lack of color reduces our concern with their sartorial choices.
BRITISH MUSEUM CHARMS B&W : FINAL VERSION
Black and white is frequently the answer when the real world is already pretty monochromatic. Does it really matter if monochromatic tan stone is replaced by shades of grey? Black and white allows me to deepen the shadows and emphasize the textures, which is really what I think this image is about. Black and white also lets a photographer deal with harsh mid-day "bad" light, since the excessive real life contrast can highlight black and white's ability to turn it into a positive.
BAMBURGH BEACH B&W : FINAL VERSION
Moving on from London, more rural areas of Great Britain can also benefit from converting to monochrome. The tans and greys in this image were not very attractive. The grey skies of Northumberland yield grey seas, so black and white is useful for bringing out the light rays in the sky, the shafts of light on the water, and the shadows what seem like monumental pebbles on the beach. For example, that shadowy cliff in the sand was all of three inches high.
BAMBURGH CASTLE PANORAMA B&W : FINAL VERSION
Okay, so we're not on Cannon Beach. When I turned around from the previous image, I saw the real reason to visit Bamburgh. Bamburgh Castle is right on the beach, still on the look out for invading Vikings or Scots, depending on the century. It was part of a chain of castles every 20 miles or so on the coast, all within signaling distance of each other, like Lord of the Rings. If you look in the distance in the previous image, you can see the small silhouette of the next castle in the distance.
THE EDGE OF THE MOOR B&W : FINAL VERSION
This is the edge of Dartmoor in Southwest England, a thirty-square mile uninhabitable wilderness in the midst of England's "green and pleasant land." Black and white actually looks more realistic than color in this image, because the unworldly orange gash in the middle of the landscape is here just rendered a light grey. Black and white also plays up the brooding cloudy sky.
BATH B&W : FINAL VERSION
The Circus in Bath, one of the first multi-family developments in England, is a collection of identical curving row houses set around a circular garden. While we lose the beautiful tan Bath stone color, we gain enormous detail in the facade and the gates. And the vintage-looking bicycle looks even more timeless in black and white.
STONEHENGE PANORAMA : FINAL VERSION
This sepia rendering of Stonehenge accomplished two things. It seemed more alive than the straight black and white, since the shades of brown achieved more contrast than the shades of grey in this instance. Monochrome also helped me clone out at least a dozen fellow tourists, since it is a lot more forgiving of manipulation than color.
HADRIAN'S WALL B&W : FINAL VERSION
It's about 4 degrees below zero centigrade, which certainly sounds more dramatic than the mid-twenties, but it still is plenty cold here on Hadrian's Wall overlooking Scotland, the inspiration for "The Wall" in the "Game of Thrones." Try to imagine the wall at twice its present-day height, since dust and dirt and Englishmen have built up the surrounding ground in the fifteen centuries since it was built. Black and white loses the green fields beyond, but adds detail and texture to those ancient stones.
HOLYROOD ABBEY B&W : FINAL VERSION
DARTMOUTH BURIAL GROUND B&W : FINAL VERSION
Black and white is really great at conveying a mood which can be undermined in a color image. These two images are all about death and remembrance, high and low. The first image is of a ruined chapel in Edinburgh which contains the remains of all of Scotland's kings before unification with England. The final image is of a modest but ancient church burial ground on the banks of the River Dart in Dartmouth in Southern England. The color images are also somber in mood, but the absence of lively blues and greens in both images certainly contribute to a deeper meaning in both of these images which capture Great Britain's long history. I hope that you have enjoyed this monochromatic tour.