This question is often asked of photographers who work in black and white. The question is a bit strange, but is understandable; color dominates the visual landscape. From the questioner’s point of view, it seems as if working in monotone is backward or non progressive, since those were the images of the past. Now for a photograph to perceive the natural world, as the eye sees it, there should be a marvel display of color. To insist on Black & White, may seem a rebellion on progress; a stay in the past.
What is missed in the question is understanding that the artist is not trying to recreate reality in 2D __ at least not for the fine art photographer. (A subject of another post.) If we follow this way of reasoning with the invention of the TV, the question put forward could be: why radio? With seeing the image and hearing voice, why restrict the input to just sound?
That said, the question is a valid one. Perhaps if phrased, “Why would one choose B&W in their imagery over color?” This would be a question with a neutral tone, and a real query to understand.
Yes, color is natural to what the eye sees; we do not see in monotone. However, there is a deep impression that black & white can leave on the mind. There is an emotional connection which is deeply stirring, and quite different from color. With B&W one becomes very aware of form, tone and texture, where as a photograph of color often takes away from these elements. Yes, of course, we all have different sensitivities, and what stirs one may not stir another. However, I am talking about the artistic notice of these elements, without them being dismissed by saturating and diverting the mind’s attention with color.
Another point is that as a minimalist, I would find it a bit difficult to build up a certain emotion in the viewer, and maintain it, when the eye moves from a color, that has its own sensation, to another color __ that has one too __, then to work with subtle tones in a monotone image. For me, the emotional containment in the B&W image can be better maintained then when working in color.
This is one piece in the show called "Grounded"; being symbolic for the forest ground. The image is entitled, “Grounded Ashore". While walking in a forest we often look around and up, and seldom explore what is aground. A view from a very low position reveals a perspective we rarely see, but can reveal so much.
As I often restrict the units in a composition to three, my thoughts are that color, would, by its own nature make it difficult to stay within that restriction of numbered units. Often color gets in the way of my message, and because color has a message of its own, it creates too many conflicts for me as a minimalist.
I also accept that working with only three units in an image is not real; the world is not made up of only three. However, working in monotone assists in creating that world, and allows the viewer to embrace that realm; a world enhanced by the absent of color. Creating that realm feels so right for me, and when it is done well, color has no place.
To illustrate this, once a woman entered my booth at an art show, perhaps in New Jersey, and she looked at my work for a while. After some time she said that my photographs of leaves seem so real, as if one could take them out of the frame. I said to her that her statement was interesting, being that the photograph is black and white and the plants are green. She paused, "Wow, you're right!" She had entered the black & white realm completely, and had been absorbed into its reality, and had not realized it. That realm was so real to her that she had no need for color to connect with the message.
I am disappointed with the result of my posted images __ as I have said time and time again. Because I am working with film, this process affects the appearance of the posted photograph in one way or another. After having to scan, rework it on the computer, upload, and then past in order to post, the image which is so strikingly elegant, by this process becomes just an average photograph, or perhaps even worse. I am told that people really do understand this, but I am not sure, so many people of today do not know the value of the analog image versus the digital one, much less the process of posting it.
Tell us, what is revealed to you when you look at a black & white image that really touched you. Did you see in that very image a need for it to be in color?