“ When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls!”
– Ted Grant
If you do a quick Google search for “street photography” a large majority of the images that appear are in black and white. It’s indicative of how popular black and white is for this style of photography. In fact, as a result of the influence of great masters such as Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank etc., who photographed in black and white, it was considered, until recently, that street photography and the most personal documentary photography should be done this way and it was the format most valued by galleries, collectors and critics. However, more recently we have been able to observe how color has grown in popularity.
The famous and self-proclaimed street photographer Alex Webb (amongst many others) elegantly uses colour photography as a tool to amaze us and inspires us to perfect its use. In fact, Webb himself has explained on several occasions that, although he started working in black and white, he realised that there was an element that was missing in his photographs, that element, of course, was color.
I personally think that black and white does have something distinctive that tends to make this type of photography special. Black and white is timeless, it’s classic and in many occasions in which colour would distract, black and white helps focus on the subjects and their emotions.
Let’s stick with the concept of emotions for a moment.
Assuming that black and white (this is of course a generalisation) helps us to transmit and focus on the emotions, gestures and expressions of our subjects, I think that color can help us express the emotions of the place or the situation and for that reason I think Alex Webb and many others use color as a communicative tool.
David Alan Harvey says: Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like (I know, I use this quote a lot in my posts, but only because I’m a big fan and couldn’t word it better myself).
I often go to the Moroccan Sahara Desert for work and on several occasions, I have tried to do projects in black and white and always ended up using color because to me in this particular area color transmits something that I do not get show with black and white. Color helps me express the heat, the “Martian” feel of the place, the inhospitable environment, the culture, the complexity of life there…what it feels like to be there.
So, color or black and white? Well, I think the answer lies in how you feel and what you think will make those who see the photo feel the same? There is no right answer on this subject, however, it is an interesting reflection that can certainly help us improve as photographers and reinforce the stories we want to tell.
Are you a fan of colour or B&W?
We’d love to hear about what you prefer to shoot in and why!
Join us on our next photo tour to Morocco and show the world what it feels like to you!
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