The question is at once fertile and mischievous. Fertile because of the questions that it raises; mischievous because answering it is hopeless bordering on folly. As a black and white photographer, I know, to a point, why I like black and white film. I can begin to point to concrete things: grain, tonality, the gravitas of analogue, the philosophical frisson of the image imprint in silver. I can even come up with an image, or maybe two …. or of course more. Choosing but one is difficult.
So when I asked this question on Twitter recently, I sat back and watched the responses with pleasure. So many different, nay radically different, responses. I reminded myself that the photographers were trying to answer the question in just one image: this was ‘it’ for them, an essence, a core approach or love in a sea of possibilities.
Looking at the work, those other questions of which I write soon follow. Is it a black and white film portrait, or the person that is the object of the image maker’s interest? Is it that still life object rendered in film that seduces or is it still life on film more generally? Is it those streets / hills / trees on film or something more abstract again? Do we as viewers identify with black and white film first, or the genres of landscape, street, portraiture (and so on), and then film? Do we simply identify with the image because of its formal strengths, or because the making of it has some kind of significance (like the camera it was made on), or are there autobiographical factors (it was a happy time, a memory)? What role does the film stock play? Doubtless the answers are multi-faceted. All from that seemingly simple question.
Delighted by the response on Twitter, I decided to offer a home to the images. In fact, there are so many that I will be publishing a ‘part two’ in about a week’s time. I started out almost systematically trying to include all the responses to my original post, but the task became simply too big. So please find my humble attempt at a gallery below. It is doubtless coloured by my own eye, and has certainly been limited by the practicalities of contacting folks for image permissions and of putting it all together. Apologies if I’ve left you out, it is more by accident than design.
For simplicity, I have left the Twitter name to stand for the photographer’s name, especially where a proper name is legible from that. I’ve included proper names where it made sense to do so, and some photographers gave me more information (which I’ve added). Some people requested links to their sites (these are next to the names). If I have your name wrong, please get in touch and I’ll change it. The names of photographers published herein are also an assertion that the copyright of the image belongs to them.
I hope you enjoy seeing the images together like this (I certainly have), and please do look out for the gallery part two.