I was in London this month for a conference and as luck would have it the venue was to be the brutalist paradise of the Barbican centre. For some at the conference, the beauty, geometry and texture of brutailsm was a new experience. Personally this is an architectural style which has never failed to inspire. In my minds eye I see a vision of the future which embodies hope. A coming together of form and function designed to make you take notice whilst at the same time creating an environment you can live with and in.
The conference involved long days in hot lecture halls but as the evening light lingered with promises of summer I had plenty of time to capture my two favourite subjects, people and architecture.In fact if you ever get the chance to shoot the Barbican I recommend going when the sun is low in the sky and the buildings cast majestic shadows across the squares and walkways. Some may think concrete can be nothing but boring and flat but I would challenge anyone to find a single surface of the Barbican which is anything but a feast for the eyes.
The Barbican centre itself is brimming with culture and I certainly need to book another trip where I have time to enjoy the galleries, cinema and cafes. The energy from the people who come for the performances and shows is palpable and spills out across the fountains and into the buildings themselves. Light and sound bounces back at you so you are surrounded by the electricity of the place and the people.
I stopped and talked to Tony, a professional musician who was sitting below a grand crest of the City of London. Tony was waiting for friends and had tickets for a Tchaikovsky violin concerto. We talked of London and his career in music. The following day he was playing piano at a retirement home near to where my grandad lives and where my family are from. I find the happy coincides which come from talking to strangers are always memories to cherish. All in all my trip to London and the Barbican was a very successful one indeed.
I only started taking black and white photographs last year but I’m already hooked. I had always admired B&W images but I had never used the technique myself for a few reasons. As a teenager when I was shooting film I think colour seemed more real to me. There was also a thought that black and white photography was a little up itself. A feeling that the shear fact that something is black and white it makes it high art. This lead me to think that somehow taking B&W pictures I was being a pretender, that I was a fraud.
The age of digital photography and post processing made it even easier to create black and white images and whilst I gave it a go I was never that impressed with the result. The ease of a one click conversion to black and white made the whole process seem even more fake. Two things happened last year which changed my mind about B&W photography. The first was that I purchased a copy of Lightroom 5. I know lots of people have used Lightroom but if you haven’t done so I recommend that you give it a try. It is a fantastic application for post processing of all types of images but for me personally it really opened up the possibilities of black and white photography.
The second thing that happened was that I was that I picked up a copy of Black + White Photography magazine from a newsagent before a train journey to London. There are so many photography magazines to choose from but few are as well edited and have such wonderful content and contributors. The magazine opened my eyes to what people are doing with black and white photography today and how you can make an image your own if you think about the image that you are creating and use post processing effectively.
This is where my journey really began and black and white photography started to teach me about the core techniques and ideas of photography in general. Partly through articles in the magazine and partly through trial and error I started to learn about dodging and burning and why it is important as part of post processing. Somehow I found this much easier to understand with a black and white image than with colour. I now tend to dodge and burn my colour images before I convert to black and white but I learnt this technique with a black and white first.
Post processing aside the biggest gift that B&W photography has given me is an appreciation of tone and a better understanding of composition. It’s not that black and white photography magically makes you take better pictures it is just that it raises a magnifying glass to aspects of an image that you might have missed before. It is all there in black and white as it where. By ignoring the colour and focusing on the tonality I started to see how elements of an image come together to build up a composition. I also started to see geometry which I had missed at the beginning.
Once I started to see my images in this way I started to apply the same ideas when I was looking through the view finder. Visualising the image in my minds eye and building up my composition. Post processing can do a lot for an image but if the important elements of an image aren’t there to start with then they won’t be there after post processing (Not unless you do some heavy manipulation of course but that isn’t what I’m interested in personally). In essence black and white photography has helped me to de-construct the images I create which has lead me to understand how to create new images by bringing these ideas together as they are taken.
As well as Black + White Photography magazine I have also been inspired by Jim Mortram of Small Town Inertia and the fantastic photography books of Cafe Royal Books. Jim makes especially good use of the medium and has created some of the most beautiful and sometimes haunting images. Whilst Cafe Royal Books does print in colour many of the works are in black and white including Jim’s book and another of my favourites Notting Hill Sound Systems by Brian David Stevens. If you have a love of black and white photography or have been inspired by the black and white images of others then please share any links in the comments.