Photojournalism in color →

April 13, 2015 |

Kenji Kwok makes an interesting case for photojournalists to finally leave black and white behind:

There’s a sombre mood to black and white photography that is so attractive to new photographers and preventing even seasoned photographers from progressing towards what we actually do see – colours. In an interview of renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1971, Sheila Turner-Seed asked what he thought about colour photography, and his reply: “It’s disgusting.”. He chose to stick with photographing in black and white because the thought of having multiple people dictating the different colouring processes (limitation of colour photography in the past) seems to complicate the simplicity of photography. But that bold pledge of allegiance to black and white photography continues to guide the digital world of photographers today, from fine art to landscape, and especially photojournalism.

I get the point Kwok is trying to make — although I disagree with him — but I have a feeling he’s misreading Cartier-Bresson’s words to create a counter-argument for his narrative. Either that or he hasn’t read the complete interview — which by the way, is fantastic.

The reason Cartier-Bresson disliked color photography was not limited to the complexity of the coloring processes or the lack of fidelity in color reproduction at the time. Those things certainly didn’t help, but Cartier-Bresson had other, more personal reasons to prefer black and white. From the same 1971 interview:

Q. If the technical problems were solved and what you saw on the page would really be what you saw with your eyes, would you still object [to color photography]?

A. Yes, because nature gives us so much. You can’t accept everything of nature. You have to select things. It’d rather do paintings, and it becomes an insoluble problem. Especially when it comes to reportage, color has no interest whatsoever except that people do it because it’s money. It’s always a money problem.

So in the end it’s about meaning, and interest. If color is of no interest to you, then having it not only fails to add significance to your images, it actually takes away from them. That’s what Cartier-Bresson believed, and that’s the reason he only shot in black and white.

Of course, you may agree with that sentiment or not. My personal beliefs lie somewhere in the middle. I love black and white and tend to edit the majority of my street images that way, and I definitely shoot with black and white film more often than with color film. However, there are certain situations where I absolutely prefer color.

At the end of the day the good news is, we don’t need to choose. Color and black and white are not two different ways to tell the same story, each one tells their own story in their own different way. We can — and probably should — shoot in both black and white and color, and shoot to our heart’s content. The only real way to find out where you stand is by experiencing both and figuring out which one is closer to the way you see the world.