In Praise of Monochrome

| June 26, 2013

That song "Kodachrome" by Paul Simon always kind of pissed me off. First, I was--putting it mildly--a bit of a nerd in school. I didn't feel like "all the crap I learned in high school" had made it hard to "think at all." Even as a teenager, the editorial urge was strong in me, and Simon's gleefully bad grammar ("And though my lack of education hasn't hurt me none") always grated.

Combine that with the creepy passage about Simon's "sweet imagination" musing about an orgy with all the girls he'd known when he was single, and you come up with the profile of a horny underachiever running around poking his camera in everyone's face. Looking at it now, I can imagine a character like that being one of those people who fills your Facebook feed with pictures of whatever he's eating.

Beyond that, the whole premise rubbed me the wrong way: I've always taken exception to the idea that "everything looks worse in black and white." In a culture as image-saturated as the one in which we live, black-and-white photography has the ability to cut through the noise of digital color correction, airbrushing and that infuriating '70s-style Instagram filter that turns even the most mundane photograph into an exercise in post-post-modern pretension.

Maybe I'm an atavist, but when I think of the greatest photos and photographers (Walker Evans, Frank Capa, Annie Leibovitz, Ansel Adams, etc.), my default is to imagine their work in black-and-white--a style of art whose power lies in its invitation to fill in the blanks, thus allowing us to interact with the subject more fully and making an image more real, in our minds, than reality. In other words, we are given the power to paint the world ourselves, rather than it being handed to us either as a stylized swirl or a dead record of Things As They Are (take that, Paul Simon).

This week, we pay tribute to the subtleties of gray scale in Boise Weekly's 11th annual Black and White Photo Contest. Feast your eyes on work that proves there's nothing monotonous about monochrome.

And speaking of tweaking reality, we made a rather embarrassing mistake in last week's paper. In a BW Pick profiling the work of artist Kehinde Wiley showing at the Boise Art Museum, we mistakenly identified Wiley as a female in the photo cutline. Wiley was correctly identified as a male in the write-up. We sincerely regret the error.

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