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Making a photo black and white doesn’t make it art

June 12, 2022

The Monochrome Set – By Andy Blackmore

After a certain number of hours at the helm of a busy picture desk the steady soft rhythm, phut, phut, phut, of expletives uttered under your breath sounds like some spluttering Seagull outboard motor. While the stress of avoiding the rocks has one urging to vent like some exasperated ship’s foghorn.

Of course, you dream of truly letting off steam which in its way is a release valve. So at the risk of sounding like an angry old man, which is precisely what I am, I feel the need to get this off my chest before I explode, frightening the newsdesk.

Now, it’s been said that you can’t polish a turd, even so, that’s not stopped many a charlatan making a nice little earner in rolling them in glitter. Nowadays, it would seem instead of bling, we are at the mercy of the latest gimmick, as a new panacea becomes the latest comprehensive solution to an age-old problem – a lack of talent.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that after spending hours, hassling, schmoozing, pleading, sometimes begging, a PR agency or company for an image of some city bigwig. Only, to curse with a word that rhymes with PHUT, on opening the email. Phut this, phut that, it’s always the phutting same.

You see, a fad has sprung forth among PR agencies and from the corporate HQs of trendy young things that issue images from exulted heights like Papal commands.

And that craze is this: rather than send out a nicely composed, nicely exposed, and nicely thought out portrait or photo. No. Now, you can send out any old crap, all you have to do is make it monochrome.

Some folks can carry a tune, some bring us to tears, and some make us cry for the right reasons. It’s the same with photography, especially Black and White. Its creation is a true art, one that in the right hands will have your spine tingling with as much frequency as Meat Loaf battering you with “Bat Out Of Hell” or Ian Curtis electrifying you with “Love Will Tear Us Apart”.

Taking a good Black and White (monochrome) image is not as simple as some seem to think, in this case, I thought about the image I wanted to capture and waited – and waited for it to happen. (C) Andy Blackmore

Taking a good Black and White (monochrome) image is not as simple as some seem to think, in this case, I thought about the image I wanted to capture and waited – and waited for it to happen. (C) Andy Blackmore

That’s because Black & White is not black and white.

It’s not easy; its creativity inhabits the world of shades of grey. It’s simply not as simple as taking a colour file and changing its mode. Too the visually tone-deaf, that fundamental lack of understanding is why we suffer so many bum notes.

Consequently, opening an email is like pulling a creative cracker. Instead of the anticipation of discovering it holds a brilliant blast of visual inspiration, too often it is a damp squib, inside, nothing but mediocrity, invariably in monochrome, no jokes, and it’s not funny.

Come on “creatives”, I’ve got news for the monochrome set, converting an image to greyscale is not like running it through some Photoshop Cartier Bresson filter. You can’t just dial in Larry Towell, James Nachtwey, Ian Berry or Tom Stoddart like it’s some special effect. It’s both naive and disrespectful.


Andy Blackmore portrait, by-line pic, 21.05.22 © Gretel Ensignia

Andy Blackmore portrait, by-line pic, 21.05.22 © Gretel Ensignia

Article: Andy Blackmore has been in the business of photography for over forty years, currently, he’s Picture Editor and Chief Photographer with the financial newspaper City A.M, while previously he’s been Chief Photographer and Picture Editor at Metro, Picture Editor of the Independent on Sunday, The Independent and the Guardian.


The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Amateur Photographer magazine or Kelsey Media Limited. If you have an opinion you’d like to share on this topic, or any other photography related subject, email: ap.ed@kelsey.co.uk


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