Colour is beautiful and engaging and remarkable, and yet for certain types of photography, colour can yield a less effective and engaging picture. Why is that though? I’ve tried to explain it to both myself and other people but I can only guess as to the reason why this is so, before I go looking for the answer that is.
Firstly, black and white emphasises light intensities throughout a frame, making different coloured objects fairly homogeneous. A red object is no more important than a blue object. What is more important are the where the intensities of light and shadow fall.
But what does this do in the grand scheme of black and white photography? My guess is that it does a few things directly within the context of when and where the picture was taken.
When I view a colour photograph, I get a rather generous dose of environmental context and can make less assumptions with my own imagination, whether consciously or subconsciously. I may be able to tell that the photograph was taken within the last couple of years, at a specific time of day in a specific place.
When you take colour out of the picture, it makes the time and environment much more ambiguous and I think this is where the imagination starts to light up and take over, forming more romantic assumptions about the context in which the picture was taken.
It allows you to build your own interpretation and feeling for the picture and I think this is why I find black and white portraits and street photography so beautiful to look at, and exciting to be contributing to in my own way.