Live and in living black and white

Not only did I judge this year’s Youth division of the San Joaquin County Fair’s Photography Show, but due to a last minute snag, photo show coordinator Mark Findlay asked me to judge the adult divisions as well. So instead of determining the merit of about 200 photos, I was charged with the fate of 600 more (for a total of 800).

Once again there were some great photos, and I had to make some tough decisions to pick the winners. The most-entered categories were the nature-themed color catagories. Landscapes, seascapes, birds, animals, flowers and close-ups (most of which were of flowers). Several dozen photos were entered in each. Interestingly, the categories with the fewest entries were the black and white ones.

In the old days photographers had to make a decision on what kind of film to use. Each type had its own characteristics, fast or slow, fine grain or coarse. It wasn’t hard to do, it just added a little more to the thought process. It’s even easier in the digital age. Most cameras have a b/w setting where you can shoot in black and white. You can also just shoot color as you would normally do and convert it into a greyscale on your computer using photo editing software.

I started in an era when most newspapers shot almost entirely in black and white. It was several years until we used color negative film. Seeing in black and white is a different story. You have to think in tonal values rather than in colors. Reds, blues and greens are all very different in color, but in black and white, they’re almost the same.

Although there are times when a photo can be all about color, there are other times when it can be a distraction. With color eliminated, one can concentrate on composition and texture, line and form.

In the Fair’s photo show, there were only one, two or three photos in some of the black and white categories, making them all winners by default. That’s not to say that there weren’t quality photos, Indeed, the Best of Show in both the Amateur and the more advanced Open divisions were both black and white.

Photo by Eric L. Duarte

Eric L. Duarte’s shot of the Stockton Rising statue near the Stockton Arena was the amateur division’s Best of Show. I’ve seen this statue before and from almost any angle, the background is at best cluttered. ┬áMost people would have thought to shoot the sculpture in its entirety, but Duarte thought outside of the box: he got in close, shot from below and used the pattern of clouds above as a part of his composition. I think this photo would have been nice in color, but I like how in black and white everything comes together as a piece: clouds, sky, statue. The introduction of color might have separated those elements.

Photo by Michael Ryan

Michael Ryan’s trio of old abandoned bathtubs was my pick for the Open division’s Best of Show. There is a sense of discovery, yet there’s an aura of mystery to the picture. Where is this place and why are the bathtubs there? (It was actually found at the old Preston Castle in Ione.) The wonderful tonal range, composition, texture and lighting all contribute to that feeling. Were the picture in color it would have been rooted more in the real world and thus lose its enigmatic appeal.

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