Making a photo black and white does not make it art

June 12, 2022

The Monochrome Set – By Andy Blackmore

After a number of hours at the helm of a busy picture desk, the smooth, steady rhythm, phut, phut, phut, of expletives uttered under your breath sounds like a sputtering Seagull outboard motor. As the stress of avoiding the rocks drives one to let off steam like the foghorn of an exasperated ship.

Of course, you dream of a real strainer which is a sort of relief valve. So, at the risk of sounding like an angry old man, which is precisely what I am, I feel the need to get rid of this before I explode and scare the editorial staff.

Now it’s been said that you can’t polish a turd, even so, that hasn’t stopped many quacks from making a nice little income rolling them in glitter. Nowadays, it seems that instead of bling, we’re at the mercy of the latest gimmick, as a new panacea becomes the latest complete solution to an age-old problem – a lack of talent.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that after spending hours nagging, chatting, begging, sometimes begging, a PR agency or company for a picture of a big city big shot. Only, curse with a word that rhymes with PHUT, when opening the email. Phut this, phut that, it’s always the same thing.

You see, a fad has arisen among the PR agencies and corporate headquarters of trendy young things that emit images of exalted heights like papal commands.

And this craze is this: rather than sending a well-composed, well-exposed and well-thought-out portrait or photo. No. Now you can send any old shit, all you have to do is make it monochrome.

Some people can carry a tune, some make us cry, and some make us cry for the right reasons. It’s the same with photography, especially black and white. Its creation is true art, one that, in the right hands, will shake your back with as much frequency as Meat Loaf will beat you with “Bat Out Of Hell” or Ian Curtis will electrify you with “Love Will Tear Us Apart”.

Taking a good black and white (monochrome) image isn’t as simple as some seem to think, in this case I thought about the image I wanted to capture and waited – and waited let that happen. (C)Andy Blackmore

This is because black and white is not black and white.

It is not easy; his creativity inhabits the world of shades of grey. It’s just not as simple as taking a color file and changing its mode. Too visually deaf, this basic lack of understanding is why we suffer from so many butt notes.

Therefore, opening an email is like pulling a creative cracker. Instead of the anticipation of finding out, it contains a brilliant burst of visual inspiration, too often it’s a wet squib, inside, nothing but mediocrity, invariably monochrome, no jokes, and what is not funny.

Come on “creatives”, I have news for the monochrome set, converting an image to grayscale is not like running it through a Photoshop Cartier Bresson filter. You can’t just dial in Larry Towell, James Nachtwey, Ian Berry or Tom Stoddart as if it were a special effect. It’s both naive and disrespectful.

Portrait of Andy Blackmore, photo online, 21.05.22 © Gretel Ensignia

Portrait of Andy Blackmore, photo online, 21.05.22 © Gretel Ensignia

Article: Andy Blackmore has been in the photography business for over forty years, currently he is the image editor and chief photographer for the financial newspaper AM Citywhile he was previously chief photographer and picture editor at Metro, picture editor of the Independent on Sunday, the Independent and the Guardian.

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of amateur photographer magazine or Kelsey Media Limited. If you have an opinion you would like to share on this or any other photography-related topic, email: [email protected]

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Jack C. Nugent