Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Black and White Book Club: week 1

It is nearly February, which means it is time to start thinking about the Black and White Book Club and our study of Michael Freeman's The Complete Guide to Black and White Digital Photography (or the smallified version, Black and White Photography Field Guide). An overview of the book club and weekly topics can be found here. If you do not have access to a copy of either book, you can still join in by reading the summaries, below, and participating in the styles for each week. If you do have the book, you will have a lot more material to draw upon and work with each week.

Week 1 (Feb. 1-2nd) will focus on Black and White Photography as Fine Art and the styles of fine art or abstract photography. (For those curious, we are following the British tradition of starting the new week on Mondays, as it fits the monthly calendar views on, a site that many are using to participate in the book club.) For this short week, we will focus on the first three chapters of the book (pgs. 7-23 Complete or 6-21 Field Guide). Below is an overview of the main topics covered and some quotations (the first number will be from the Complete Guide and the second will be from the Field Guide).

The Black and White Tradition

"…black-and-white photography is traditionally more strongly associated with art than is color, and there are lessons to learn also from monochrome painting" (pg. 9/9).

The book begins with an overview of the history of photography and its connections to the primacy of monochrome in early fine art, calligraphy, and finally abstract art. Throughout the discussion, Freeman focuses on two important considerations: the impact of emotion and the importance of tone. He stresses the recognition of emotion-through-monochrome as a recurring theme in photography and of the role of tone: "As we will see time and again in photography, restricting the palette allows the artist to concentrate fully on the subtleties of tone" (pg. 14/15). As you experiment with fine art or abstract photography for these first days, try to keep both emotion and tone in mind.

The second half of this week's readings covers the history of the photographic tradition and the mechanisms behind camera sensors (wavelength and sensitivity). An important take-away from these sections is that "Camera sensors do not match the eye's color response, and need both physical filters and special image processing to come close" (pg. 22/20). While this section might be a bit technical for some, it may be enough to recognize that eyes and sensors interpret scenes differently and that different 'translations' from color to black and white can produce very different versions from the same original image.

Finally, one of the big ideas in this book and an excellent starting point for book club discussion is the question of why, as a photographer, you would choose black and white for your final image. As Freeman argues, "More fundamental than the 'how' of shooting monochrome is why and when" (pg. 9/9). Spend some time this month thinking about why a certain subject appeals to you in black and white and consider sharing those thoughts for a specific image or images.

Multiple Ways to Join the Book Club

Want to participate? Post a comment with your thoughts or a link to a picture you have taken for the book club and an explanation of how the book influenced your image. Or, you can post pictures and contribute to the discussion by joining the Photography Book Club Group on Flickr or the bw-bookclub discussion and tag on

Parting words for the week: "What sets black and white apart from color is that it is not the way we see the world and it does not pretend to represent reality …. it is a creative choice" (pg. 9/9).

Enjoy, and I look forward to seeing your thoughts and images!

Click here for the post from week 2.

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