“..Why would anyone want to photograph an indisputably colourful world in monochrome? If colour film had been invented first, would anybody even contemplate photographing in black and white?”
– Russell Miller
I love B&W photography. But Miller raises an interesting question about the role of B&W photography and it’s place in history.
We had many years of only B&W photography and many of the most famous photographers worked primarily in that mode. As a result, many of the most recognized photographs are B&W. Would things have been different had color film been invented first? I believe they would. I’m not saying that we wouldn’t have B&W photography but I suspect it would be a very minor niche, probably done as infrequently as monochrome paintings.
It’s interesting that television and the movies started off also as B&W only but now there are extremely few movies and no TV shows produced without color. We even go as far as to “colorize” old B&W movies (which interestingly enough seem not as visually interesting as they did in their original state).
My own experience selling color and B&W work is that the average person, not the photography collector, prefers color work by a wide margin. It makes it hard to allocate wall space in shows to B&W work if I’m trying to recover costs or make some money. I wish this weren’t so. It’s possible my own color work is just better than my B&W and my experience may not be the same as yours in this matter.
Putting additional pressure on B&W photography is that most people are shooting digital cameras which always capture images in color. Of course, it’s easier than ever to convert these to B&W but we don’t necessarily go out with the intention of shooting B&W which was the case when we were loading B&W film in our cameras.
I’m not sure why B&W photography has had the staying power it has, but I’m glad for it. It’s a different and special way of seeing.