When I need to make my photos less generic and more specific to me, Exposure’s suite of black and white filters are often my first port of call.
From the days of Ansel Adams onwards, black and white photographers have been cut a lot more expressive slack than colour workers. The bizarre contrasts evident in some of Adam’s work are no more representative of how things look in nature than a tobacco-coloured sky, yet there is little tolerance of colour manipulation, especially in landscape photography. There seems to be an expectation that black and white workers are more than mere recorders, that they will put their personal stamp on a scene. There is an understanding that black and white photographers aren’t simply novices who haven’t yet learned the language of colour.
One of the reasons that black and white is such a powerful expressive medium is because, unlike colour, it is not literal: there is a quality of “otherness” that results when a scene is rendered in black and white that creates some personal space. Photographs have the potential to be about the subject – and us – rather than merely of it. In the context of landscape photography, the sky sets the emotional tone of the image : compare the mood of ‘Paps of Jura, from Craighouse, Scotland’ with ‘Over Sorvagsfjordur’ towards Tindholmur, Vagar, the Faroe Islands. Both the type of clouds and the position of the horizon in these shots has a major bearing on the vibe they give out: in the first, the landscape is dwarfed by the high, towering white clouds that draw the eye ever upwards. There’s a note of optimism in it. In the second, the sky is diminished and threatening, directing the viewer into the dark middle distance and foreground. If you pick up a sense of menace you’d be right; this is a beach where pilot whales are driven ashore and slaughtered in the shallow water by the islanders.