A good friend recently commented that there was a lot of black in my latest work, and asked if I was going through a dark phase. This is a particularly observant and insightful friend, so I paused before responding—wondering if, perhaps, she was seeing something I had not acknowledged.
But the honest answer was simply, “No. Black is my favorite color.”
As a child, black was often the color I chose from a box of crayons. My early work in photography was in black and white. I have always been very particular about using black felt-tip pens. And my closet is filled with more than the usual share of black clothing. (Hey, it travels well.)
After more than 20 years of photographing gardens in color for books and magazines, I began shooting more personal images in gardens that excited me at the moment, but fell flat on the computer screen. They looked dead, lifeless and boring. This happened repeatedly, and I was concerned that I was losing my ability to see and interpret an image. One day, in looking through some of these images, it struck me how monochromatic they were, so I tried converting a few to black and white. Suddenly, they snapped to life. I realized I was no longer seeing in color; I was seeing again in black and white.
With the exception of The Mutable Sea series and some accompanying abstract images from the marsh, my personal photographic work has been in black and white since then. For me, it feels cleaner, simpler and quieter. It offers a sense of clarity, revealing elements of a scene or characteristics of a subject that might be overlooked in color. It is more about shape, form, texture and quality of light. I especially love rich blacks, which are achieved through a combination of exposure, image processing and appropriate paper selection.
Black has many dark symbolic associations that would be a treat to delve into this Halloween, but I will spare you. I don't generally identify with the grim or grisly when photographing the natural world. I do, however, embrace the idea that black is a mysterious color associated with the unknown. I have always been intrigued with the unknown, and this sense of curiosity is at the heart of seeing more deeply.
Black is also associated with formality and tradition, and I tend to embrace a classic approach to black-and-white photography. I have been influenced by the work of Michael Kenna, Mark Citret, Margaret Bourke-White, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Edna Bullock, Josef Hoflehner and others. They are all masters worth studying if you have an interest in black-and-white photography.
Our color preferences are very personal. When it comes to seeing, interpreting and expressing our own vision, it is not so much which colors we choose, but why we choose them. Colors convey energy and moods. As a photographer, artist, collector of photographs or one who simply appreciates art, do you have a preference for color or black-and-white images? Do you have favorite colors? What is it you love most about those colors?
And just for the record...I'm not all about black. At the moment I am enjoying the muted colors of fall—colors such as squash, sage, eggplant and pumpkin.