“To see in color is a delight for the eye but to see in black and white is a delight for the soul.” ~Andri Cauldwell
“Life isn’t black and white. It’s a million gray areas, don’t you find?” ~Ridley Scott
It all started with a Facebook post last week. A dear friend “nominated” me to participate in the 7 day challenge of posting a black and white photo every day, with “no people, no explanations”. I accepted the challenge with great enthusiasm. It’s been many years since my early venturings into black and white photography, back in the day when I used an actual SLR camera with interchangeable lenses rather then a cell phone. I was inspired by the artistry of the great photographers then–Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Dorothea Lange in particular. I used to love spending hours in the darkroom, watching with delight as each image slowly emerged on paper in the developer tray. It felt like magic every time.
These days you can take a photo with a smart phone in color and convert it to black and white. It’s not quite the magical experience of my younger years, but it has rekindled an appreciation for the simplicity of black and white photography. What I am appreciating is how it is inviting me to see and think in a new way, to relate to the world differently. Photographing in black and white challenges us to be more thoughtful about what we want to express.
Without the distraction of color, we are drawn into a black and white image in a more contemplative way,to look deeper than surface appearances. There is an invitation to linger over the image, to notice the interplay of light and shadow, the inter-relatedness between foreground and background, the shape and contour of elements in the image. In looking closely, some essential quality of the subject may be revealed that evokes an emotional response or perhaps even reveals something to us about our own inner truth.
There may be more than one interpretation of an image, more than one meaning or type of emotional response. It’s fun to explore with others what their experience is, which may differ from our own.
I’m finding in this 7-day photography challenge that I’m asking myself, what is it I really want to say? What is meaningful to me that I would like to share with others? And something else: it has led me to a contemplation of the term “black and white thinking”. Black and white thinking is just the opposite: it’s about separation and judgement; it’s an “us vs them” mentality, where there are good guys and bad guys, entrenched ideas about right and wrong–which is so prevalent in our world today. We’re not looking at the gray areas. We’re not noticing the interplay of light and shadow or looking for inter-relatedness. We’re speaking with certainty about our own beliefs rather than exploring our experience with others in curiosity, valuing each other’s different views and perspectives, knowing that each one is valid.
What if we were to be more thoughtful in our inter-relating, attempting to see beyond surface appearances? What if we took the time to focus on the essential qualities of the person before us–gaze into their eyes and glimpse the light that shines from within? What if we could allow ourselves to be in curiosity about another being and look for ways we can relate to one another, maybe even learn from one another, even if we have wildly different views and beliefs? What deeper truths might emerge like magic?
What would our world be like then?
Joanne Lefferts photo: White Rose