Black and white: Trading thoughts on monochrome photography

Published: December 27, 2015


LAHORE: Monochrome photography helps bring out emotions in a picture, freelance photographer Umair Ghani said on Saturday.

Ghani made the remarks at a talk organised by the Photographic Art Society of Pakistan.  He said it stressed the content of the picture by removing the distraction of colour. Ghani said it was somewhere in the 1950s that Harper’s Bazaar decided that fashion photography should form the backbone of the industry. He said despite the presence of coloured images, the magazine decided to go with black and white images. “They thought colour is used to sell clothes, not design and fashion as its essence is more about lifestyle,” he said, explaining the decision to use monochrome photography. Showing various images from a Dior campaign at the time, Ghani elaborated on how they had prized style and structure over glamour.

“Black and white images engage the audience emotionally,” he said, showing the work of photographer Fazal Sheikh, who went to Afghanistan and took pictures of photographs of those who had been killed there. “When Sheikh initially presented the pictures in colour, they were not liked,” he said, adding that presenting them in black and white had added to the images.

“The images simply depicted the truth of life,” Ghani said. He said removing some colour from pictures was necessary at times to heighten the message they furthered. “Initially, this idea is scary. One wonders as to who will want to look at our simple black and white images but so many photographers have made their lives’ work in this,” Ghani said.

Ghani then proceeded to cite the example of Tamanna, an Iranian photographer, who used black and white photography to capture transgender people. “Usually when we look at them we notice their loud clothes and glamorous getups,” he said, adding that the monochrome photography had added another dimension to their existence. “There was a particular sadness in the images. It made one focus on what we normally overlook,” Ghani said.

Photographer Samiur Rehman also spoke on the occasion. He said when he and his colleagues had started photographing in 1985, over 90 per cent of pictures displayed used to be black and white.

Painter Ijazul Hassan said he had read in an old Chinese manuscript that colour was a matter of imagination. The absence of colour from black and white photos had never bothered him, he said. Hassan said he could imagine the pictures in colour.

Hassan, who is also an award-winning photographer, counselled young photographers to find depth in scenes and situations they understand and know instead of looking for exotic locales. He said colour, when used wisely, also added emotional depth, especially in painting.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2015.

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