Future Nostalgias

Right on the heels of the Conscientiously Gray list, both Jörg and Tim Atherton have cited this Charlotte Cotton essay on contemporary B&W photography, which in turn contains a fair number of interesting B&W links — and some great comments in the short but dense forum discussion on the right side of the page.

I'm struck by Cotton's (qualified) emphasis on B&W as being inevitably nostalgic. I continue to disagree, given that B&W is a portion of human vision and evolution always wins. She is right, though, in recognizing that B&W photo isn't going away, but will remain as part of the visual spectrum.

Cotton is also right, I think, in mentioning that given the world-full of color images in which we now live, B&W has a new inherent message: intent, "as a bid for us to remember that photography is an act of making choices."

She mentions in her essay the Japanese Provoke group. When I was last in Tokyo I stopped at PlaceM, a photo-hub (clubhouse/bookstore/gallery) in Shinjuku owned by a collective including Daido Moriyama. Stepping into it it was clear that, at least in tech-fetishizing Shinjuku/Tokyo, there was still plenty of activity in B&W. I could have spent a fortune there on books. Come to think of it, I did — though some remain un-read. Perhaps this will give me a little extra incentive.

Recently in a StreetPhoto list thread the assertion was made that it's impossible, or nearly so, to make an image envisioning the future without it being in color. My own take is that it's simply difficult to make any assertion about the future, photographic or otherwise, if you limit yourself to the language in vogue today. In the 1980's it was difficult to imagine a future of popular music that didn't involve electric guitars and synthpop. But the fundamental expressive power of acoustic music and voice was not erased by the growth of technology or the fashion of the time. Sure, today we have bands playing heavier metal than ever, and producers and engineers making more polished and lushly-crafted electronic pop than ever. The branches of their steady growth have not withered. But we've also got Sufjan Stevens, Kings of Convenience, no shortage of acoustic and blended acts whose works can't be expressed in the language of 1983 (on a recent VH-1 documentary of hair metal, one of the stars of that era classified newer acoustic music as "Tracy Chapman sh*t" — as if his ability to even conceive of music outside his standard range is limited to 1980's references). When the status quo disregards any part of human nature, new forms will always rush in to fill the empty ecological niche.

Comments on "Future Nostalgias"

March 12, 2007 09:47 AM

Surprised to hear that anyone would think that a particular assertion cannot be made in a certain way. The statement is shows a clear lack of lateral thinking ability.

The statement "in tech-fetishizing Tokyo, there was still plenty of activity in B&W" contradicts your own later opinion. I really cannot see how one would exclude the other (and I tend to disagree on the "tech-fetishizing" bit, but Westerners just seem to find that stereotype irresistible).

Kevin Bjorke
March 12, 2007 10:16 AM

Why think laterally when you can just act that way? :)

Do you mean this in the context of my disagreement with her continuing association of B&W with nostalgia? I only disagree with it in the sense that it sems to be the *only* reason she cites for enjoying contemporary black and white.

As for "tech-fetishizing," I meant only in terms of digital. And yes, most Westerneers who show up in Shinjuku are there for the tech (or Kabuki-cho weirdness), for the big department stores and (digital-heavy) camera shops. Just a few blocks from the colorful Canon & Epson galleries, PlaceM is a bit of quiet B&W oasis, with a closet full of tattered Ilford and Bergger boxes visible behind the curtain.

March 13, 2007 08:36 AM

I was actually referring to the SP quote. Still have to read the other piece (although headlines like "X is the new Y" always put me off, but I will give it a go. :)

Even if Tokyo was tech-fetishizing (i.e. "modern" or "future"), that still does not mean that there cannot be b/w (as seen in PlaceM, and whose coexistence seem to have surprised you so I thought you indirectly agreed with the SP poster).


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