CAN 1 Exercise 3.1

Find a street that particularly interests you – it may be local or further afield. Shoot 30 colour images and 30 black and white images in a street photography style. In your learning log, comment on the differences between the two formats. What difference does colour make? Which set do you prefer and why?


Instead of taking 30 colour and 30 b&w images, I decided to use the same 30 images and process them in colour and b&w versions. I found that this highlighted the different readings offered by the two formats more effectively than if the two sets had not been identical scenes.

In the colour set brightly coloured objects draw our immediate attention and become central to our reading of the images, so that we experience them in the first instance as arrangements of colour and form. The images have a strong sense of being in the present tense and are highly transparent, giving the viewer the impression that they offer a direct representation of their subject and are telling it as it is. The colour also helps to give the images a light and joyful mood. For all these reasons they are more resistant than the b&w set to revealing any narrative that might be present within them.

In the b&w set the images are flatter and shallower, and this gives them a degree of abstraction that allows us to read any narrative that is present in them more readily than we do in the colour versions. Indeed, the absence of colour – in and of itself – invites us to engage with the images imaginatively to a greater extent than is necessary for reading the colour versions, even if we are not conscious of doing so. It also brings a sense of distance in both time and space that automatically suggests a narrative element to the images and conveys the idea that they are being presented as something to be taken seriously.

Which set do I prefer? To some extent it depends on the individual images. Some of them (for example, the one with the yellow chairs and the girl with the long red hair) rely on colour for their composition and interest, and lose a lot with its absence. Others, especially those that have a stronger narrative potential, for example Ivor the Tarot Consultant, I think work better in b&w – in this case, partly because it’s easier to read Ivor’s advertising board, and the crazy-face flag on the far right edge has a stronger presence than in the colour version. But if forced to choose one format overall, I prefer the colour set – which is definitely not what I would have said a few months ago when I was still halfway through the EYV module, so that’s an interesting observation for me and shows me that my understanding and appreciation of these issues is evolving. The challenge now is to find a way of making the sense of narrative as apparent and compelling in colour images as it is in b&w.