Part 1 – Exercise 2 – Colour or Black & White Street Images?

For this exercise the brief was to pick a ‘favourite street’ and take 30 images in black and white and take another 30 in colour. The street I chose in Norwich was Magdalen Street, a street that starts in the historical heart of the city next door to the iconic Anglican cathedral and then deteriorates wonderfully into a world of ‘grungy’ charity shops towards Anglia Square, an area which has bizarrely been threatened with the addition of ’boutique shops’ by the local planners, and a promise which thankfully has not yet been fulfilled.

There were some rather obvious choices for colour – people walking in the low winter sunshine with the light just catching their faces (above top right), some colourful trolleys thrown around by the wind (above top left), ‘busy shop windows and a historic shop front where street signs battle for space with the extended shop floor as the furniture spills out (above).

Along with the ‘trendy’ retro atmosphere of parts of the street, some of the businesses are stuck in a time-warp, including the hairdressers shop below which proudly boasts ‘Appointments not always necessary’.. this image cried out for a black and white finish to emphasise the fact that time has not moved on and the old fashioned hair dryers work just as well as they did 40 years ago.

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Some of the contents in the shop displays  were also quite bizarre and seemed to lend themselves to colour just so that they were noticed… for example in the image on the left the small pink guitar at the back of the shop would have been completely lost in a black and white image.

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Conversely, for some images, I felt that the lack of colour created irony in the photograph and that’s why the colour, however little there was, needed to be retained.  Heading towards Xmas, this sad looking shop front didn’t exactly fill me with Christmas cheer!

Equally, for some images I felt it wouldn’t really matter if it was black and white or colour. In the shot below, a woman cowered behind the sign stuck to the café window, obviously in an attempt to avoid the camera. Her leopard print coat appealed to me, but this also showed up in the black and white version.  The lack of customers apart from the cowering woman also seemed to work well in the image and similarly, it didn’t matter if I’d shown the strewn empty chairs in colour or black and white.

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The Xmas fun-fair in Anglia Square in the image below gave me the opportunity to play with the balance of black and white or colour during post-processing of the image.  I desaturated some of the image to emphasise the grey, dismal feel of the shoppers sitting gloomily on the benches, possibly not relishing the idea of the impending festive season, but I liked the colours of the empty ride and the leading yellow power cables providing the life in the image. I also think the bollard says ‘Danger! Watch out ! You might have fun here !’

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My final comment on the choice of black and white, is that sometimes a gloomy day can be exaggerated using colour and can add to the overall melancholy feeling within a photograph. I think that using black and white can mask that atmosphere, which of course makes it a useful tool to use to combat the UK weather. The ‘Moonlight Cafe’ below sounds like it could be a rather beautiful and romantic location and therefore the dismal, colourless winter afternoon retained in what little colour there was, to me, added to the irony of the image.

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This is far from my best set of photographs on a not particularly inspiring day, which in itself was a good test for me to go out and find images whatever the weather or location. Consciously concentrating on choice of colour or black and white was also a good exercise for something which often feels instinctive and therefore difficult to pinpoint or explain the reasons for choosing one format against the other.

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