I miss Black and White, even bad black and white.
Good black and white, Glorious Black and White, oh how divine. Black and white so sharp it can cut you.
I think that black and white is such a tremendous element in story telling, and so lost.
Good black and white is hard, it isn’t just about shooting in color and not using Chroma (color information), there is so much to it. Contrast, how colors are rendered on Black and White, the image control. In black and white if you have two objects with the same tonal value, one in front of the other, you must light to provide separation between them. In color, if they are different colors they are automatically separated, so you can get lazy and not light. Oh there is more to it than that, filters can be used to affect the contrast – shooting in black and white, and want the actress to have luscious lips, put a reddish filter on the lens and use green lipstick on the actresses lips. Tricks like these and others that are being lost sadly.
Still it is more than just a craft that makes Black and White so wonderful. The fact is that most everyone sees in some form of color. It is what we are used to, what we have experienced all our lives – in spite of dads the world around telling their children that no one saw in color until color TV was invented (I’m guilty of that too) – Color vision is the natural world for us. So Black and White – it instantly puts us into a different state. A Cinema mood – read The Magic that happens between frames – if you will. It is quicker to get lost in the movie, and forget that we are not watching reality. Now it isn’t appropriate for every story, and Color can be used to good effect, and lighting a film in color as if you were shooting it in black and white can produce lovely results. Sadly though that sort of skill and craft is disappearing. It has been years since I’ve shot anything in black and white (Double X negative from Kodak – my favorite) It takes more time to create good black and white – heck it takes more time to create anything GOOD black and white or color. More attention to detail.
Sometimes I feel that the ease with which we can capture images today actually hurts the work. It is similar in construction techniques. Way back when, it took so much effort to construct anything that what you built you built well and to last. Even a hundred years ago, it took so much effort to put up a wall, or a building, that it cost the same to build it well or build it cheaply, so things were built well. Now you can spend a lot of time putting up a wall with wood lathe, and cement covering, and then plaster, or you can throw up a sheetrock wall much much quicker. Which is better? Well the sheetrock wall is faster, but is it stronger? So today – so easy and simple and inexpensive to shoot anything in “High Definition”, then just throw it into a computer. But not really getting the most out of the image. Not really pushing what can be achieved. It is like the label is so more important than the content.
You can’t shoot beautiful black and white without great attention to detail, effort, planing, gear and investment. All these things disappear these days as it gets easier and more accessible to get “High Definition” images. Crews are cut, equipment budgets slashed, number of pages per day that need to be shot increased – because the initial requirements to get a VIEWABLE image are so lessened that it is just in human nature to reduce what is available to push the image to its best. It is along the lines with my views on McLuhan’s Laws of Media – as it gets easier, it becomes lesser. Now we can get something viewable without having to work super hard, so production takes the path of least resistance. The Audience accepts less, even losing the “Discerning Palate” (See Quicker, Faster, Better? Or Lesser”?)and the impact of the film is lessened.
Black and White is just such a break from the world we live in, it is more real than real. Allows us to experience images so differently than we normally do. It just opens up so much potential in the image. Bad black and white is as emotionally and intellectually moving and stimulating as mud. Good black can take us where color can’t. Good Black and White is hard, color is easy, which one are you going to pick?
Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment.