My Adidas sneakers, my favorite dress, the Exile On Main Street album cover, the Ramones, the Kills, Robert Capa and Robert Frank, Anton Corbijn, Stephan Vanfleteren, Sieff, Avedon, C’est Arrivé Prèt De Chez Vous, Pi, Notorious, Casablanca, the covers to Ginsberg’s Howl and Kaddish, The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity,13 Tzameti…
– Black & white love –
When I first started as a photographer, I was a dedicated follower of black & white film. As a matter of fact, I only switched to digital and color 4 years ago. Besides the occasional holiday snap in full color, it was life in grainy monochrome during dark room filled days.
I found a job at a local music magazine pretty soon after I got my first SLR. Analogue, naturally. I remember being nervous about having to show my work to the graphic designer, but my b&w image of Supergrass got me in. The next three years were spent in gritty clubs while trying to make the low light and “saturated, loosing all detail” paper the magazine was printed on work for me. I tried out all sorts of film, before I finally settled on Kodak T-Max 3200 ASA, which was mainly due to having to shoot bands in dark clubs. I needed the sensitivity to light that came with that particular film. Fortunately, I loved the grain that came with it as well, it fitted my favorite subjects perfectly. I also preferred the roundish grain of Kodak to the flat/square grain of Fuji Neopan, and chose Kodak paper instead of Ilford as the blacks were more beautiful. The whites on Ilford were prettier, but ja, I never needed a whole lot of white.
I looked at every Charles Peterson image I could find, signed up for a course in American Film Noir at uni and subsequently watched 2 film noir movies a week, and attended lectures with black turtle neck wearing professors. Even after graduation, I stuck to black & white, photographing a dance company in Antwerp, Low in Paradiso or Anouk in Utrecht. When I had the opportunity to photograph CocoRosie a few years ago, I brought my SLR loaded with Fuji Neopan b&w film. Something had slowly changed though, as it was the first shoot to which I brought a digital camera as well. A tiny Sony Cybershot at that, obviously not a true convert yet:)
There’s something about black & white images that makes it modern and classical at the same time. I suppose it’s the ‘abstractification’ of reality that brings an excitement and tension with it that is different from what one achieves with color. As color falls away, your eye looks for other things to connect to; light, contrast, shape and composition. The monochrome also often gives a graphic design kind of feeling to images which I love.
Today, years after I showed my Supergrass photo to the designer, and after I switched to digital *and* color, I find myself extremely excited when I open the morning paper and see a two-page spread of photos that Stephan Vanfleteren took of Anton Corbijn. Two of my contemporary heroes in glorious grainy monochrome.
And now I know it’s true what they say, first love never dies.