Kevin Bjorke
Kevin Bjorke
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(C)2004

Current listening: “Nightingale” by Yoshikazu Mera, whose voice anime fans would recognize from his melancholic rendition of the title theme from Miyazaki’s Mononoke Hime. The album is subtitled “Japanese Art Songs,” and is something of a rarity here: just voice and piano accompaniment in a Swedish recording of contemporary Japanese kunstlieder. It is at once close to the heart of conservative music and yet bold and expressive in its realization. For all the admiration I have for brilliant arrangements on a large and complex scale, whether it be a Kid Koala scratch track or Beethoven’s magnificent Ninth, there’s still nothing more expressive than the direct voice. Simple clarity. Eminem exagerrates (duh): “nobody listens to techno” but we know what he means.

I’ve been shuffling lots of digital pictures around lately, moving them from my space-strapped laptop to CDs as backups and also to one of the desktop machines. As long as I was rebuilding picture folders, last night I had Photoshop bulk-duplicate several of them in monochrome and ran the results as a slideshow for a while. The result surprised me.

Almost without fail, the b&w versions were as good as , and in most cases better than, the color originals. This surprised me? Yes, because I’ve grown increasingly used to shooting in color. Those photos had been intended as color photos. But genuinely, what I was shooting were images that gained more from their shape than their color — more from a face’s expression than its complexion. I hate to make sweeping generalizations, but here goes anyway: In its simplicity, b&w expresses more directly than color.

The elements seen at the moment of shooting, I’m becoming convinced, are better-represented in the b&w. Snapping at faces, at people in motion, really does seem better suited to rods rather than cones, at least for my eye. To give in to that quick, impulsive response is to ignore the color — to blind myself so that I can see.

The photos where color is significant are always slower, even to the speed of landscape. In a few cases they add form where the grayscales have blurred, but it’s only adding to an image that’s first and foremost driven by its monochrome reading. As often as not the color seems to distract, unless color itself is a primary subject.


BTW, I recommend a visit to Ben Lifson’s latest project.