A Color of Black & White ~

Chalk it up to old age if you like, or just a trip down memory lane, but I've been thinking a lot about black & white photography recently. Most of my photography career was dominated by the practice, in the lab and behind the camera. In fact, both were necessary components of the magical black & white arts: you shot it, and you developed and printed it. Along the way were incredibly expressive tools and techniques. Sometimes I miss that, smells and all.

What amazes me to this day is the remarkable range of color and tone that were possible in the craft we simply think of as "black & white" photography. Some of it had to do with the variety of papers we had: silver bromide papers, some with a barita base that increased the "whiteness", and some smooth, very warm-tone chloro-bromide papers. The names may not mean much to you now, but I assure you they still resonate with me: Agfa Brovira, Oriental Seagull, Kodak Ektalure. Geez, I can't even remember what day it is half the time, but somehow I can conjure up clear memories of these, and a lot more.

And toners; we had tons of toners. Chemical toners were largely used as a means of increasing image permanence in the photographic print, but they also imparted a fine, subtle coloring of the image as well. Selenium was common; it produced a cooling, slightly purple-ish tone to high-silver papers which was lovely to behold. And everyone, of course, is familiar with the warm brown tones of sepia, often used to give prints an "old fashioned" look. I rarely liked it. But you get the point: a combination of paper and chemistry could result in a remarkable range of possibilities.

So let's cut right to the chase: can the modern digital photographer find love and happiness in black & white? Well, yes, maybe even more. There's some mind-blowing, incredibly beautiful photography going on out there. And onOne Software, for example, re-creates the look of actual black & white films, some of which disappeared from the market years ago. How cool is that? But for me, the great black & white experience can't ever be fully duplicated. I miss the cloister of the darkroom too much, but I'm not complaining. I think I'm finding more expression with my photography than I ever have, it's just...different.

It's more colorful.