I bought a photo book (well, books) recently that has absolutely floored me. I’m still only a fraction of the way through the ~2000 pages of photographs and words, but it’s not one of those books that you rush through. The images don’t float by you as you turn the page. They punch you in the gut, they slap you in the face with a dirty look as they pass you by.
The impact these images have on the viewer are inextricably linked with the medium and presentation of the images. All are shot on black and white film and printed on very large pages. The effect of the large printing is obvious – the larger the print, the more it draws you in. But interestingly, that effect is magnified (at least to me) when coupled with the fact that it’s shot in black and white. Images that may appear two-dimensional on a screen have new depth and life in print. At times you feel like you’re falling into the gradient of the greys as the last bits of a streetlamp’s illumination falls off into the black depths of the Irish night.
Flipping through…no, not flipping through…getting punched by the pages of this book, it’s impossible for me to imagine this work being as successful if it were shot in color. We often talk about black and white being more timeless than color. I completely agree with that sentiment, but I think it’s a shorthand that’s easier to talk about than the rest of the truth. I think there’s something more fundamental, more elemental about black and white images. I think we feel them more viscerally than color. Color floats by, black and white punches.
None of this has anything to do with the image that I’m posting today, and it would be cheap to try to connect them. All I’ll say is that today’s Thanksgiving, and I’m very thankful to have found this rich world of black and white photography.