The Mono Question

Practice thinking : Informing Contexts

MA Study, Falmouth University

I have a fondness for monochrome photography.  I am increasingly experimenting with film cameras in 4 formats and the film I use is normally black and white, plus I almost always toggle between colour and monochrome in post editing of digital images, shot on my SLR’s.

It is a question that has ben rehearsed since the advent of colour film, is it fashion, style, technical, audience or some other reason?

I have done some web based research and the theorists tend not to broach the question, practitioners do with some vigour.  One wonders what would Martin Parr’s work be like in monochrome; not the immeasurable hit it has been I surmise, equally the sharply contrasting street photography of Harry Callahan would simply be less, well simple.

So, without a deep pool of theory to dip into I resolved to write my own thinking and tease out why I work so often in black and white.  My use of monochrome is two-fold.

Firstly I do believe my work – which is about space and surfaces – architecture/public art/end of life structures – requires the capture of materiality, grain and light as a fundamental – there are no human faces to explore and see into – it is thus all about controlling a series of parts that imprint onto the image via photography.

Secondly, I can find that colour can distract and taking that layer of information away I distil and remove the distraction. It is a reductive process. It demonstrates and denotes a stand of minimisation in practice.

These two aspects synthesise into the use of monochrome imagery regularly in my work.

The challenging counterpoint to this is the beige, greyness and faded palette that evokes the 1970’s so well; that is presently the era I am shooting, because so many of those buildings and structures are deemed to be at the end of their life; hence the source of much of my documentary archive.

So, I acknowledge that I am in a dilemma at times. I use both colour and monochrome. It is very plainly a judgement I make at the time of shooting or producing.  Here are two examples, from the same shoot; St. Thomas More church, Sheldon, Birmingham, shot on 25th March 2017 just after dawn when the sun was low but intense.  The frame of the church is exposed concrete, 1969 vintage, listed for its architectural quality (grade 2 https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1410131).  In my opinion this is suitably captured in black and white, reflecting its era, materiality and striking form, best conveyed by that medium.  In sharp contrast the ribbed concrete walls have instead into the narrow vertical apertures stand glass, large abstracted which then cast an extraordinary spectrum of light onto the stone floor, pews and congregation, somehow adding an ‘otherness’ to the interior.  It is rare to harness both monochrome and colour on the same shoot but in this instance I was both comfortable, inspired and happy to reproduce in both. 

Here are two images to make the point.

DSC_5571 copyst tom more ext ribs copy

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