This year has seen a break from many years of black and white photography into colour. It happened unintentionally when I introduced a good quality digital camera into my kit this spring. It was to replace my 35mm film camera that finally died its death ten years ago in the heat of Thailand. The idea was to have a more portable, technically advanced camera to augment the larger and less sophisticated equipment that had become the mainstay of my work. Monochrome was still to be the end result. Rather than go directly to a black and white setting in the camera, I decided to convert the shots to monochrome later. In this way more information is preserved giving many more options for exactly how the conversion from colour to black and white eventually looks.

Bringing Back The Colour

The surprise came when, whatever I did, for many photos, the monochrome version did not look as good as the colour one. In losing colour, some images seemed to be losing vitality. I had not had this problem with film. Although I could not avoid seeing the image in colour through the viewfinder of the film camera, after years of practise, my eye habitually re-visualised the shot in black and white at this stage. That was the end of it. The film I used was only capable of rendering monochrome and I never saw a hint of the colour version again. With digital images, I was confronted with full colour in the editing stage that had to be willfully removed. Often that was fine but at least half of the pictures, for me, did not look so good without their blends of magenta, cyan and yelow. To begin with, established ideas were hard to dislodge and I doubted the validity of this personal impression.

I got stuck with this issue for a long time, keeping both colour and black and white versions without being able to chose between them. The dilemma was compounded by my lack of experience of working with colour and the fresh range of challenges this brought. From the selection of a subject through colour balance to presentation for the web, I was on a steep curve of learning. Eventually, I had to completely redesign my approach. Shooting colour had only a few similarities to shooting black and white. Colour added an extra, overwhelming dimension to a picture that I had to learn to handle and embrace.

Inner And Outer Are One

It was not only changing my approach, it was changing me. Black and white seemed all about elimination. After colour had gone out of the window, to fully utilise the impact of black and white, I kept compositions simple and stuck to the rules. In doing so, this 'me' embodied restriction. Inessential details were avoided in favour of the stark. As I worked, I became less frivolous, more serious. Then came a strong inclination towards abstraction, where the subject itself lost importance. Images began in realism but ended in mystery. The noise, chaos and activity of the world moved further away from the picture and from me. It was about meditation: a movement towards the void, a settling into silence and stillness.

My approach to colour felt buoyant and full of life. I seemed more outgoing, appreciating the subject and its function. I became less fussy. First about focus, dropping the ideal to have it all sharp from front to back, even choosing blur in some places. Secondly, about composition and placement, inviting more of the peripheral elements to intrude. All photography has to be about selection but instead of rigorous elimination, my pictures became more about inclusion. In the process, I became more open. My vision widened and I enjoyed being out in the world amid the sounds of insects and movements of the wind. I was dancing with nature instead of penetrating its essence. At this point, I feel that while black and white plumbs the depths, colour is a celebration. Naturally, both have a place and change is always on the horizon.