Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

The Sweet Smell of Monochrome

Evening shadows, Yosemite Valley

I seem to be having something of a “fling” with black and white conversions.  I’ve always liked monochrome, but never – as far as I can remember – better than I liked color.  Until now.  Now I seem to be in a mode where my first thought is black and white when I look at an image.  For whatever reason, the picture looks more “real” to me when the color is removed.  The very idea of the image has been simplified, made less complex.  With the color gone, it’s  as if it’s easier to “see” what’s actually in the frame – which components have the most visual weight.

I don’t think I’m alone in this.  More and more people in the photographic blogosphere are putting up black and white images.  Many are doing it with film, and processing their own stuff.  That part I don’t get.  I mean, if they want to shoot film, be my guest.  But why would anyone want to play with those nasty chemicals?  In another lifetime, when I had to deal not only with processing chemicals, but with all kinds of raw materials that went into the manufacture of the photographic film itself, I was part of all that.  Breathing in vapors and particulates that were never intended for human consumption.  I’d come home at night smelling like photographic emulsion or a processing lab.  I suppose I should be happy I’m still breathing at all.  A number of my former colleagues and friends were less fortunate, some dying before their time of very hard to pronounce cancers.  While there’s no proof, I suspect, that cause and effect exists, you’d still have to put a gun to my head to get me to mess with that stuff again.

The good news, of course, is that we don’t have to.  It can all be done digitally, on the computer.  And in a lot of respects, better than Ansel himself could do.  So my advice, guys, is to forget that “retro” stuff, throw away the film, and return to your digital cameras if, like me, you want that monochrome effect.  It has to be safer.  Inhaling that crap won’t make your work any more “artsy”.  And who knows – you just might live longer.


6 Responses to “The Sweet Smell of Monochrome”

  1. Ken Bello

    I’m with you 110%, Paul. Although I’m contemplating doing some B&W film work, the processing is very small scale. Not like manufacturing film products. Do you use Nik Silver Efix Pro. I just downloaded the trial version and it’s very nice. Spendy, but nice nonetheless.
    This photo is a perfect example of the power of B&W. It’s beautiful.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Ken. I thought I might hear from you on this one. Heck, we used to work in some of the same darkrooms and wander through the same coating alleys. I still have dreams about that place. No more chemicals for me.

      Yes, I use Silver Efex Pro. In my opinion, it’s well worth the price. It even simulates different types of B & W film (with the appropriate grain, even).

      This is one of my favorite images from Yosemite. I love the Y – shaped path in the foreground. What I didn’t like was all the bugs in the grass…….damn things nearly ate me alive.

  2. Earl

    Paul, beautiful..simply beautiful, and I’m a huge fan of Silver Efex Pro as well as Color Efex Pro.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks so much, Earl. I’ve never tried Color Efex Pro. But if it works as well as Silver Efex I’m sure I’ll get to it at some point.


    This is a gorgeous photo, Paul…all the more amazing because there are no visible people in your shot. And you are right that developing and manipulating digital has to be much safer than film. There’s an interesting series of short videos you might like (if you haven’t already seen them) at “The Story of Stuff.” I think it’s….

    Cheers and stay healthy!

    • Paul Maxim

      Thank you, Martha. There were people around (you can see cars parked in the middle of the frame). Fortunately, not many of them wanted to wander through the weeds.

      I haven’t been able to locate the videos you mention (I’ve been to the site but so far my searches have come up empty), but I’ll keep looking. I’m sure they’ll be interesting.


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