I love colour despite being partially colour blind (don’t get me started about THAT!) but there are times when I love the simplicity and subtlety of a black and white image more – times when form and gradation of light take pride of place and colour can be a distraction. Monochrome can be harsh and gritty or subtle and sublime. It allows for outrageous effects – turning a blue sky black, for instance and so remains a favourite approach. It also allows me to include a few surviving images from my student days (when monochrome was the default because colour was too expensive and fiddly).
With modern digital camera technology, one is often tempted to think that all that needs to be done is to take a picture in the usual way and simply delete the colour information. If only it was that simple! We are accustomed to seeing monochrome images that were originated on silver halide film and developed with chemicals. Every photographer who was brought up on this approach will have a favourite combination of film and developer and this choice has a huge impact upon the qualities of the final image. My favourite combination was Kodak Tri-X film, overexposed by 2 stops (remember them?) and then processed in Kodak Time Standard developer (a formulation from the 1940s). This gave dense, contrasty negatives that were devilishly difficult to print but which had exactly the tonality I sought. One strove for precision and consistency but mistakes could still happen and so it was that I discovered the merits of underexposure and overdevelopment. What may have seemed to be a set of constraints turned out to be a wonderful palette of possibilities that are hard to replicate digitally.