Black-and-white and photography genres (1 of 2)

But before all else, a work of art is the creation of love. Love for the subject first and for the medium second. Love is the fundamental necessity underlying the need to create, underlying the emotion that gives it form, and from which grows the unfinished product that is presented to the world. Love is the general criterion by which the rare photograph is judged. It must contain it to be not less than the best of which the photographer is capable.”

— Eliot Porter

This is the eleventh publication of a series in which I’m addressing the topic of black-and-white. The series includes posts and videos that can be easily located by using the tag “learning-black-and-white” either in the search box above, or by directly clicking on the tag name at the bottom of this post.  Also, here is a link to the entire series so far.

In the last post I published a video in which I explained the workflow I use  to create black-and-white images, here is a link to the post in case you’re interested. This time I’m going to address a slightly different topic, I’m going to start talking about different photography genres that I usually include in my black-and-white photography.

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Figure 1. “So Sad” © Enrique Peláez

Without getting into a discussion about the taxonomy of photography, I’d say black-and-white photography is not exactly a photography genre.  Take for example my photography, it is mostly black-and-white, however it crosses several genres such as still life, abstracts, landscapes, architecture, and a bit of street photography, I’d say the constant across my body of work is fine art — actually, all my work is intended to be fine art.

Most black-and-white photographers usually do different genres according to their interest, however  there are some genres that are more, let’s say suitable for black-and-white than others. So, the goal of this article and the next one is to cover some of these genres from the perspective of black-and-white in order to hopefully inspire you to start covering those genres in your own work.

Having said that, in this topic I’ll cover black-and-white landscape photography. In general the history of landscape photography has been a sequence of photographers that specialize on capturing color grandiose scenic images.

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Figure 2. “Sunset” © Enrique Peláez

Most landscape photographers shoot color, which is an obvious choice as they really want to convey that grandiose, majestic sentiment of those paramount landscapes such as the typical images of the Grand Canyon that many times are intimately attached to color.

So, is landscape photography really suitable for black-and-white? If you think that one of the greatest landscape photographers, Ansel Adams shoot black-and-white,  probably the answer would be a definitive yes, but I’m sure that if Adams were alive, he would shoot color. So, in my opinion, the magnificence of the typical paramount landscape is very difficult to convey through a black-and-white image.

If landscape is not suitable for black-and-white, then what’s the point of this article? Well,  let’s think about landscape as a compromise between the sweeping landscape and the detailed close-up, so that is precisely what Eliot Porter’s work is about, and that’s what many critics call intimate landscape, which in my opinion is much more suitable for black-and-white.

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Figure 3. “God’s Creation” © Enrique Peláez

There is no definition of what intimate landscape is about, however if you analyze Porter’s landscape work, there are similarities with what black-and-white photographers traditionally look for in an image: Porter’s landscapes rely on textures, patterns, light reflecting on the subject, and most of the times his landscapes are perfectly composed in a way that they also work as beautiful abstract work.  Take a look here to these 10 magnificent gelatin silver prints that are part of Porter’s collection “There is my own spirit”.

Now, take a look to the images in figures 1, 2, and 3 in this post. They are part of my own collection of intimate landscapes  — you can check the entire collection here. As you can notice these landscape images are more about shapes, light,  composition, and textures than the majesticness of the subject, so they convey a very different mood which is more about the intimacy of the moment. So, that’s what in my opinion can be perfectly conveyed with an black-and-white intimate landscape.

Thanks for staying with me during all this series, I do appreciate it. The next post of this series I will continue analyzing photography genres that are suitable for black-and-white photography that I hope you will find it inspiring enough in order to start including those genres in your own monochrome images. Let’s keep in touch.

I do appreciate your comments and suggestions. If you are interested in more information regarding the making of my images, as well as general information about black-and-white photography, please subscribe to my blog to receive automatic notifications every time I publish a new post.

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