No Justice in Black & White (part 1 of 2)
I love black & white photography. What I love most about B&W is that I have to convert it over from a color image to B&W. Of course, today there is more ways to convert to B&W that you can shake a stick at, but my favorites are Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. Most of the time I use Photoshop and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. It is a lot of fun to run a photo though this process and it is certainly altogether different form the days of film where all we had to do was put black & white film in the camera.
Okay, with all that said; B&W photography is, like all things in photography, very subjective. After all some photographers shoot exclusively in B&W and others reserve it for certain situations or genres. I know photographers who will shoot color most all the time but reserve B&W for landscapes. Then there are those who feel “street photography” should always be shot in B&W. While I too feel street photography looks great in B&W, I tend to totally break away from that rule while traveling to Thailand. Thailand like other Asian countries is so vibrant with color that it is hard to capture an image and look at all the colors and say “ok this needs to be a black & white photo.”
It is obviously the culture; Thai people love vibrant color and use it in a way they we usually do not see here in the USA. I travel to Thailand for a month every year or so because my wife is Thai and we go to visit family, travel around and basically enjoy Thailand. Now I am using Thailand in my example, however other Asian countries have a lot of color too, it’s just that I’m partial to Thailand, my second home.
On my first trip to Thailand my plane arrived just before midnight October 27, 2009. My arrival was not at a jetway, but rather the old-style mobile stairs that roll up to the aircraft’s door. So, after all most 30 hours of travel I was perplexed to see this and then I was stunned when my face hit the 92°F (33°C) humid and pungent air of Bangkok. Having left the USA where it was very cold with rain & ice, I met up with my girlfriend (now wife), headed to the taxi line and off to the hotel located in Pattaya about an hour away along the water front.
At the airport I did not notice any change in color, maybe I was too tired. During the midnight taxi ride I was looking out the window the during the whole ride. My girlfriend Munn was very tied from her bus ride to meet me at the airport so she quickly fell asleep in the taxi.
I am in a new country, a new land and I want to take it all in, but the night view was just highway scenery with giant billboards. I mean like the biggest billboards I have ever seen in my life. As the taxi hummed on through the night, blazing down the highway that had very little traffic, I just stared out into the night and was mesmerized at how all yellowish-orangish everything looked from the highway lighting. There was also an almost full moon with ominous dark clouds around it, everything looking so surreal.
Soon the taxi starts to slow a bit and I know we’re close. I have to explain for those who may not know Pattaya is a party city that practically never sleeps. It is a mix of beer bars, restaurants, night clubs, hotels and everything else that tourist come to enjoy. Munn chose this destination as a place for us to layover for a few days before traveling to her village. Why? I have no idea whatsoever. Munn is a very traditional country girl, she worked just outside of Bangkok for several years, but would often spend weekends back at her village. She wanted me to see Pattaya, however this is not really my style either, but for photography this place is awesome.
After only a few hours sleep I was awake and eager to get out and see Thailand in the daylight. A quick trip to the breakfast buffet and then out into the day. Again, it is a new experience for me, Thai culture, food everywhere and motorbikes… The motorbikes were just everywhere I turned. The air was hot and humid, but I was embracing it. As Munn and I walked along and I am taking in all this new “everything” all of the sudden it hit me as to “how colorful everything looks.” The motorbikes, the people on the motorbikes, the signs, the buildings, the boats, just everything seemed to have more color than I would see anywhere I had ever been in the USA. Well, anywhere in the USA except for Chinatown. So again, it is an Asian culture thing… I guess. But I love it!
After a morning of walking along the waterfront and other streets I start to get tired, the heat is taking its toll. I retreat to the hotel room where I am eager to look at my bounty of photos I have captured. As I start to go through the images again, I realize even more how much color I see. It was at this time I started to come to the realization that I do not think black & white edits can do justice to any of my photos. Here again some photographers would argue the point that “street photography” should always be black & white because it strips the image down to just looking at the scene for what it is and blah, blah, blah… Whatever. For me, to edit a photo into black & white is more of a creative decision, rather that following a rule.
So, after a few days it is time to head 9 hours north by car to Munn’s village in the Kalasin province.