What’s In A Medium?

 
“It allows the photographer, as an artist, to see beyond what is ordinarily seen.”—K Madhavan Pillai

“It allows the photographer, as an artist, to see beyond what is ordinarily seen.”—K Madhavan Pillai

This editorial was originally published in November 2014.

In the days before colour photography, the act of advancing the frame and the clatter of the mirror when the shutter was released, held some strange, unexplained fascination. Old film cameras would get so familiar after a while, that they would take on a life of their own, with their own identities, personalities and eccentricities. There was also a sense of romance about working in darkrooms, making test strips, and watching photographs come to life.

Nowadays, as technologies progress, we think of buying a new camera every other year. We ‘press a button’ instead of releasing the shutter and we call a photograph an ‘image’. We edit images by sitting for hours in front of a computer. Of course, technology has benefits that are undeniable. And certain things, like the importance of composition, use of space, or even the need to manipulate, has not changed since photography became an art. But those who have experienced both worlds will tell you that the digital medium has indeed taken away some of the charm of making a photograph.

I believe that our allure for the medium of black and white also stems from our enchantment of what is old, timeless and classic. In fact, the word ‘classic’ typically means ‘of the highest class’. We place a lot of value in old books, hand-written letters, antiques and family albums filled with black and white photos. Many purist photographers continue to use old techniques and chemistries to recreate the classic appeal, perhaps hoping that their works will become timeless and live on beyond them. But that is not all.

The power of black and white photography is that it compels you to search for deeper meaning within a picture. It allows the photographer, as an artist, to see beyond what is ordinarily seen. In black and white, shapes, contrast, and patterns can leave behind far stronger and profoundly complex psychological and visual impressions. It can also breathe life into the most basic forms so that less is infinitely more.

Regardless of how we may explain it to ourselves, some of us shoot in black and white because we just enjoy it. That, I think, is good enough reason… better than most.

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