Why Black and White?
I figured I'd use this post to explain how I've ended up coming to shoot everything in black and white; with the exception of that one image on the fine art section which may be debatable when it comes to 'fine art'. Anyway.
I explained about why I was drawn to buildings as a subject in my previous post; however I'll go further into it before I explain my black and white preference.
So, I've always had some kind of interest in architecture or just buildings in general for as long back as I can remember. I can recall my first career aspiration was to become an engineer instead of an astronaut or the usual firefighter or superhero (although to be honest, who didn't want to be a superhero when they were four?). That aspiration slowly melded into wanting to become an architect proper by the time I was leaving primary school way back in 2010; and that remained my goal. It stayed at the back of my mind for a long while, and then Christmas came the following year and I started getting properly into photography - also known as the 'oh my god depth of field is a thing even though I'm using only full auto' stage.
It was at this point in time that the London Bridge Tower - lovingly known by almost everyone now as The Shard - had just broken ground.
I'd first heard about this when my childhood best friend mentioned it to me in the primary school playground one lunchtime, and I saw it for myself for the first time in 2010 when my mother took me on a trip up to the Big Smoke from rural Cornwall. Not the first time I had been to London, but the earliest time I can ever recall actually going there. I saw the early core of the Shard beginning rise from the peak of the London Eye; taking the tube around to The City and visiting my cousin at work in the Lloyds Building. Seeing all these places made me realise that there actually was life outside of the Cornish village and the city of Plymouth which was all I had known at that point. And I'll be honest, I thought I was the dog's bollocks when I first started at secondary school for having actually left Cornwall; only to find that most of the people I would grow to befriend (and detest) have done the same many more times than I had.
I soon discovered the SkyscraperCity forums online, and learned of what was in store for London, and slowly, my interest began to grow.
Fast forward two years to a rainy late February afternoon in Islington, after the first meeting of the Cleft Lip and Palate Association's Children and Young People's Council, I convinced my parents to take me to London Bridge so I could take a look at the Shard with my own eyes and to take (very poor) photos of it which I could post on the forums.
From that point on, it felt like I followed the final stages of construction religiously; hitting F5 on the webcam every five minutes to check for updates; following the forums every day. I earned quite a bad rep on the forums for my constant pestering for updates, but that didn't stop me from asking.
Fast forward one year later; after winning tickets to visit the viewing gallery on the 68th floor (which arrived the day we got back, having to book them ourselves); and a bright eyed and long haired thirteen year old realised: 'You know what? London actually does have some decent architecture'. My photography was still terrible, but in my head I was beginning to appreciate architecture a lot more; though I still wouldn't have been able to tell you much more about any other architects' names, projects, or anything relevant.
The council saw me visiting London at least twice a year, and I would always take my camera with me to shoot anything new that had popped up in the few months since I was last there (which for about two years seemed to be a lot). Again, I couldn't attest to the photos being any good, but still, I would take photos of them.
2014 rolls around, and I manage to convince my parents to let me wander around after a meeting on my own with my camera to shoot. And I can probably put it down to this time that I tried to start taking 'good' photographs. I journeyed on the DLR to Canary Wharf for the first time, and from there, Westminster; and by my standards now? They were still quite bad. I was also allowed to visit the city with a friend for the day on my own that summer; which gave me more time to explore the city rather than photograph it. I would still shoot, but those journeys tended to be more of a recce than an actual photoshoot.
Come 2015, and with GCSEs out of the way, I could move photography out of the 'hobby' category, and into the 'serious intention to continue this as a career' category; and with that came the almost overnight jump from colour to black and white. The first free reign project I was given was for a winter exhibition, where I decided to tie in a conference in London with a shoot for this project (it was called 'The Square' with the intention that we would get a square area to display work in. We didn't get that set up.). Tie this in with a shoot in London the day before the exhibition, the vast majority of those images were in black and white. Thinking back, I can't tie down my reasoning; perhaps I thought it would just be something to try out? After all, November and December that year were cold and foggy, and the images didn't owe themselves to colour for the most part.
It was also in November that I shot the only image I have ever sold: the colour photo of Baker Street Station on the right. Also from those shoots came the first image I have shot to be selected for an exhibition outside of education.
I had only been at college for three months come December 2015, the month of the first exhibition, and I was exploring more of a 'fine art detail' view of architecture, which for the most part seemed to work quite well. I hadn't had much time to research any photographers at all; architectural or not; although I was introduced to Sebastiao Salgado. No body of work in particular, just him as a photographer, and the cover image that was used on the Genesis body of work.
I took inspiration from the dramatics of Salgado's style, translated them into colour, and spent a few days in Dungeness creating images for the end of year one exhibition. It spawned a meme as well, which I guess is a good thing?
I was still wanting to go into architecture at this point, and the summer of 2016 saw me in London once more, this time for the University of Westminster Access to Architecture Summer School. This was my first experience doing anything properly architecture related and, well, £300 and three of intense sketching later, I realised I hated it. Still, it was better to spend three days and £300 than potentially seven years and thousands of pounds on it. I can safely say it put me off of sketching for a very long time afterwards.
From that point on, I realised I much preferred photographing buildings, rather than designing and drawing them. Kind of a shame really considering I knew how long it would take me to get to a place where I would be happy; but it made me realise that I clearly didn't understand what being an architect would entail.
I put a potential career in architecture aside, and decided to focus solely on photography with no real direction. Perhaps this was a mistake, but my story is still being written...
By the second year of college, I had begun to learn more and more of the works contemporary works of Salgado, and the early 20th century Ansel Adams and Group f64; as well as the rivalry between the East Coast Pictorialists (creating an image instead of recording it, using photography as an extension of traditional fine art) and the West Coast Straight photographers (depicting a scene in sharp detail an emphasis on the underlying abstract geometric structure of subjects).
It clicked with me that after all of this time, and after having experimented with different forms of photography in the studio, in portraiture, and on location; that this was what I wanted to shoot like. It's what worked best with architecture, and it was what seemed like the most appealing in my eyes.
To an extent, pictorialism has seen a resurgence in recent years, with many younger photographers choosing to process their images in a way which emulates the pictorial style (as well as shooting on older film, but that's for another time.)
By the time of the final major project in the second year of college (2017), once again I had free reign over my subject - rather predictably, I went to London again. But as this was more concept driven, I brought attention to the fact that my life had reached a turning point. I was in the process of moving house, preparing to move out of the new home to move to London for university; so I considered this more of a 'reflective-conceptual piece', as well as a way for me to satisfy my urge to create a hyperlapse, which I had wanted to do for years. I accompanied this with an image I had shot in London back in April when I was shooting the hyperlapse, printed on aluminium di-bond. It didn't sell, and to be honest I wasn't expecting it to. It's hanging in my parents' office at home as we speak.
I think though this marked the point where I had fallen out of love with colour.
It's worth mentioning that I wasn't shooting architecture exclusively. Living in Cornwall, and lacking the confidence to approach people to photograph their own homes saw me shooting landscapes much more often, despite it only being secondary to my main interest. Even moving to Somerset the summer before I started university saw me shooting landscapes a lot more. I did enjoy landscapes at first, as it was a means for me to explore the place I live in, and provided me an opportunity to show it off to my friends who live abroad or just had the wrong image of those places in their heads. I processed these in a mixture of black and white and colour, but Was increasingly finding that the images I was processing in colour looked dirty and just bad, for want of a more descriptive word.
It was a distraction. But then I found that the ones I were processing in black and white weren't much better, either. This wasn't a matter of colour versus black and white, but rather the subject itself. The final nail in the coffin for landscapes seemed to come in the summer, after having climbed Glastonbury Tor one evening, and coming back and an SD card for of crap (in my eyes). The only images that I shot in colour throughout 2017 came about during London Pride, which I stumbled upon completely by accident. The very nature of Pride is about colour, so to process those in black and white would have been awful. But then again, was it colour that makes me like them? Or the fact that I had hired a Sigma 50mm Art lens; the sharpest lens I have ever shot with on my own camera body. I'm putting those down to sheer luck as the reason they work.
And that leads me up to the present. It's December 2017 and I'm now at university; having decided that I want to specialise in architecture, and shoot in black and white for the majority of work. Honestly I can say I've learned more and shot more in the past three months than I had in the entire few years beforehand; having met industry professionals, and picked up a small yet (hopefully) growing group of contacts, both architectural photographers, regular photographers, and architects themselves.
One documentary photographer in particular, Mark Neville, whose Leica Masterclass I had the pleasure of attending recently, created a body of work titled Port Glasgow - a documentation of the town of Port Glasgow, for the people of Port Glasgow (and nobody else, in a 'fuck you' to the established art world.). In doing that, he got a lot of attention, which is difficult to do in a small yet very competitive industry.
More and more I have been getting asked the titular question both on the forums, and in person:
"Why do you shoot in black and white when these buildings are noted for their colour?"
"Is your camera that old?"
"What was the last time you watched a movie in black and white?"
"Oh, they're black and white?"
For the most part (besides the suggestion I post both a black and white and a colour version because it's 'presumably not too arduous'), other users seemed to support my choice to process that way. Either way, I've had to explain myself.
What I just wrote is the very long answer. But for those who want a tl;dr - you're gonna get one.
I shoot black and white because I have been influenced by the photographers of the early 20th century who shot exclusively in black and white; and I feel colour adds a level of distraction which detracts from my subject. On top of this, I don't see anyone else who does what I do in the way I do it.
Besides, this is London, in the UK.
Overcast is the new sunny.