To honor the photographers who dedicate themselves to the classic tradition of black and white photography, Phase One designed the world’s first 100-megapixel Achromatic Digital Back. Landscape photographer, Steve Gosling, kindly shared his thoughts on black and white photography, and we found out what makes him so passionate about the genre.
“I’ve been taking photographs since the age of seven, and when I started out, black and white film was the only realistic option (color film was expensive to buy and to process) so I grew up seeing the world as a black and white photograph. So, although I do occasionally shoot color, my default is to see the world in black and white.
Learning to see in black and white requires the photographer to develop a new vision that reduces the landscape to interlocking shapes and tones. This requires practice and experience.
“Personally, I like the fact that working in monochrome removes the distraction of color. There are times when color doesn’t add anything – or worse, just seems to get in the way. The absence of color forces the viewer to work harder – they are hopefully encouraged to go beyond a superficial acknowledgement of an attractive landscape to extract a photograph’s deeper message.”
A black and white image demands a level of engagement (from both photographer and viewer) that is different to that required by color photography.
Also in removing color, black and white is already one step away from reality so it’s never going to be an accurate record of a scene – the emphasis is immediately on interpretation rather than representation. And because it’s non-literal in this sense, viewers of black and white photographs seem more accepting of manipulated images (you don’t get the ‘you cheated in post-production’ response that is a more common reaction to heavily worked color shots!). All of this means that I feel I have more license to work on an image to communicate feelings and emotion.
“I think black and white photography is a perfect way to recreate mood.”
My prime aim with photography is to communicate what I feel, as much if not more, than simply what I see. So, when I’m looking at a subject or a scene, I’m often trying to consider not only what it is that’s appealing to me visually and how I can make an interesting composition out of it, I’m also assessing the way that I feel – is the landscape generating an emotional response in me and how do I best communicate that. I describe my working process as being about me having a dialogue with the landscape – a conversation between the two of us, but one where I hope that the landscape has the loudest voice.
“I guess my natural preference for black and white photography has moved me towards a more abstract style which is very graphic and minimalist. I take a reductionist approach to composition – taking out elements to simplify the design of a photograph as much as I can (and that includes color).”
And black and white suits the graphic nature of my work where the emphasis is on line and shape, tone and texture and pattern – these are the building blocks of my black and white landscape images.
A photographer friend of mine teases me that when I grow up I’ll learn to color in my photos. But in truth I’m happy working in shades of grey and after 50 years that’s not likely to change.”