Joel Meyerowitz: Black-and-White vs. Color Photography

15 January 2013

Lens:

I. Part One:

1. Sky and Trees, Nikon DSLR, January 2013; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2013

1. Sky and Trees, Nikon DSLR, January 2013; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2013

2. Black-and-White Sky and Trees, Nikon DSLR, January 2013; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2013

2. Black-and-White Sky and Trees, Nikon DSLR, January 2013; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2013

Part Two:

3. Afternoon Clouds, Nikon DSLR, January 2013; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2013

3. Afternoon Clouds, Nikon DSLR, January 2013; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2013

4. Afternoon Clouds, Nikon DSLR, January 2013; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2013

4. Afternoon Clouds, Nikon DSLR, January 2013; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2013

Part Three:

5. Library Corridor, iPhone 4s, January 2013; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2013

5. Library Corridor, iPhone 4s, January 2013; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2013

6. Library Corridor, iPhone 4s, January 2013; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2013

6. Library Corridor, iPhone 4s, January 2013; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2013

Part Four:

7. Sunset, iPhone 4s, January 2013; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2013

7. Sunset, iPhone 4s, January 2013; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2013

8. Sunset, iPhone 4s, January 2013; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2013

8. Sunset, iPhone 4s, January 2013; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2013

Let me know which you prefer and why. Are you a fan of monochrome or tend toward reality? Or are you drawn image by image?

Pens:

When I first gazed at Joel Meyerowitz’s photography of Cape Cod, his frames of  architecture and seascapes did not evoke deep feelings. But they conjured the softer gaze that is found at seaside towns. A recent retrospective of his art has altered my view, clarifying the depth and breath of his vision of human nature and nature. From street photography of the 1960s to the Cape of the 1970s to continuous coverage of New York City (especially Ground Zero) his legacy is sealed in the annals of art history.

Meyerowitz said, “What I think is so extraordinary about the photograph is that we have a piece of paper with this image adhered to it, etched on it, which interposes itself into the plane of time that we are actually in at that moment. Even if it comes from as far back as 150 years ago, or as recently as yesterday, or a minute before as a Polaroid color photograph, suddenly you bring it into your experience. You look at it, and all around the real world is humming, buzzing and moving, and yet in this little frame there is stillness that looks like the world. That connection, that collision, that interfacing, is one of the most astonishing things we can experience.”

New York City, Joel Meyerowitz, 1975, Google Images

“New York City,” Joel Meyerowitz, 1975, Google Images

Ground Zero by Joel Meyerwitz, one of 8,000 images that he took over nine months that docmented the site, Google Images

“Ground Zero” by Joel Meyerowitz, one of 8,000 images that he took over nine months, Google Images

At seventy-four Meyerowitz has gained a stellar reputation. His popularity has grown glacially but steadily. His oeuvre, which dramatizes what we see against what we think we see, deserves its permanent place in the history of photography.

At Water's Edge, 1996, photographs of Cape Cod by Joel Meyerowitz, Google Images
“At Water’s Edge” (1996), photographs of Cape Cod by Joel Meyerowitz, Google Images

Recently, I read about his two-volume set, Taking My Time (Phaidon, October 2012, which includes his film, Pop), that was published in conjunction with exhibitions in New York (through January 05, 2013) and Paris (January 2013). What stirred my interest was the knowledge that he was instrumental in the 1960s as an advocate of color photography–a medium that, at that time, was considered inferior in art circles but a sensation in the commercial (weddings, portraiture) marketplace. Monochrome photography was heralded by the masters and color had not yet been accepted for its possibilities.

Taking My Time, 2012, a retorpsective of Joel Meyerowitz's career, 650 pages and 600 photographs, Google Images

Taking My Time (2012), a two-volume set about Joel Meyerowitz’s career; 650 pages and 600 photographs; Google Images

Meyerowitz has been consistent about his championship and use of color photography. In the early days of his career he was known to carry two cameras (one loaded with color film and the other with black-and-white). He was determined to understand the qualities of each for his own edification and work.

Meyerowitz concluded that color offered additional information, forcing him to pay more attention to every detail. Eventually he experimented with side-by-side comparisons. He forged through the wall of disbelievers and became an advocate of color. His work pushed the envelope, influencing the way color was viewed. In Taking My Time Meyerowitz continues the dialogue in the essay, “A Question of Color;” he uses diptychs to make his points. Still, there is a place in his work for the monochrome, and when it works he complies.

The drama of color vs. the drama of black-and-white photography can be a hard punch or slightly competitive. Sometimes it is simply a matter of personal preference. At other times the clarity of an image can make it easy to determine the best rendering of the content.

I’ve become such a devotee of black-and-white images. Partly, it’s my admiration for the masters and partly it’s my admiration for the effect. It helps me see what I have taken with a deeper visual inspection.

In the Lens section are four parts that set up a comparison between the two. Color can stagnate, black-and-white can stagnate. When the photographer makes the decision to convert to black-and-white, the contrast and tones must soar. They must complement all aspects of the image. The decision must boost the narrative, making a bolder statement than its reality.

When an object or portrait or scene becomes a monochrome, it has to make a profound statement that color may or may not be able to do for the same photograph. Often it can be a tough call. After all what I see and what you see are not equal or maybe even close.

Black-and-white photography remains a vital component of the art world. Its qualities can be a vast treasure trove for the visual senses. During the times when it works, it staggers my mind and makes my heart quake with joy.

Still, whether an image is black-and-white or color, its depiction and effects can change from silence to exuberance. When the correct aesthetic choice is made, that final visual interpretation can astound, viewer by viewer.

Note: As always I welcome comments about this post or any part of my blog.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Black-and-White Photography, Human Nature, Photography, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Joel Meyerowitz: Black-and-White vs. Color Photography

  1. eof737 says:

    Gorgeous… I still love the color shots a bit more. The last B&W was stunning. 😉

  2. Thanks so much for a great post. I hope to read the volumes you suggested! As far as my preference, I am split. I prefer color in part I, black and white in part II, black and white in part III, and color in part IV. In part I in particular, the black and white version doesn’t sing to me near as much as the color one does. My eyes stayed on the color one much, much longer – looking for more. Same thing happened with the black and white version in Part III. So, I suppose, in terms of preference, I would have to say . . . it depends. 🙂

  3. For me the coloured pictures were giving me information, but the black and white gave me mystery and imagination… Another blogger referred me to Karsh of Ottowa’s famous portrait of Winston Churchill after my last blog on him, and the power of the black and white made me feel that colour could never have conveyed what Karsh conveyed in this magnificent and marvellous portrait…

    • Absolutely, I saw an exhibition years ago of Karsh’s portraits; they stun with their visual effects that bring character and personality alive. Please search for these of his work, they are my favorites: Ernest Hemingway and Georgia O’Keeffe. Thanks.

  4. I love colors but black and white creates a dramatic, more stunning effect that makes you think and feel. Your selections of images are just amazing. My favorite were the tree with the clouds above it and the sky with the impressive sky formations. Thanks. Best wishes!

  5. Normally, I’m b&w all the way, but the colours in these are so vibrant, I vote colour this time 🙂

  6. marialla says:

    1. happy and light in colour but 2. already mysterious.
    3-6 feel the same whether colour or black and white.
    7. mysterious but 8. already with a touch of omnisity
    I liked first and last set of pictures best. Thank you. Mari

  7. Dina says:

    It’s really hard to take a preference here. I enjoy the b&w, but the color ones are very good too. Sometimes it depends on my mood. Your presentation sharpens my eye, excellent work!

  8. rtd14 says:

    I think it is interesting how in Part 1 the color picture looks brighter, and in Part 3 the black and white photo looks brighter than its color counterpart. You did a great job. I love pictures of the sky.

  9. ancientfoods says:

    For me it will always be a love affair with black and white photography.

  10. Apart from the last subject – the geese – I would go for the colour shots. I just get drawn to individual shots. B&W and colour are so different.

  11. scillagrace says:

    My first reaction to the black & white shots was a sort of “sci-fi” vibe. Examining that, it’s the element of the unknown that can be a little disturbing…without the bit of information that color gives us, we’re not completely sure what we’re seeing. The color shots seem more comfortable and familiar, the monochrome more mysterious. Because of new technology, we get to choose which feeling we want to evoke with our art. Pretty cool! 🙂

    • Thank you for a thoughtful reaction to the debate–yes, color is our reality. Certainly, monochrome is a particular view about a subject. And how fortunate that we have the wherewithal to choose what is in our aesthetic vision.

  12. Gracie says:

    I am more of a colored person. Most of my photos are done in color. But I also tend to gravitate towards monochromatic images, I guess depending on the subject. I know I like the play of light and shadows on B&W images (which is why I like the B&W version of your first image), as well as the minimalist approach.

  13. Thanks for this post, Sally. Your examples are very helpful – this will make me take a second look, or have a second or third thought now when sizing up a potential shot.

  14. Traci says:

    For pictures 1, 3, and 7, I prefer the color prints – beautiful!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s