Question & Answer With Mottel - Black & White Photography
(Picture of Mottel courtesy of Letters of Thought)
A Simple Jew asks:
What is it about black and white photography that allows it to resonate deeper with us? Black and white photography relies on four main elements: texture, light, shadow, and reflection. I have noticed that the most compelling black and white photography includes at least two of the elements as part of its composition.
With black and white photography we are not distracted by the shade of a color but rather we focus in on all the details of the picture's subject. Things that we never thought as "art" may now take on a new reality once they are captured by the camera's lens. Black and white photography gives a clarity to the world that is often lacking in the world of color. Unlike a painter who may paint something solely out of his imagination, a photographer merely catches a sight that appears to his eyes. He may captures the look in another persons eye and that in of itself may become art.
Do you have any thoughts on this Mottel?
Mottel of Letters of Thought answers:
Let us start out with art in general.
Art has the power to change how we view the world.
With art we take the mundane, the normal, and give a new look on the world around us. We distill the world down to its basic elements and bring those that we wish to focus on in to the forefront. Even with abstract -'modern'- art, the artist has chosen to express certain elements from the world at large -only in a more greatly distilled manner; he has broken up the concept into mere color or form.
When it comes to photography, there are certain advantages and disadvantages to how this 'slice of life' is captured.
On one hand the photographer has the world around him already composed. The elements can be found in the mere click of a camera. A storm at sea can be caught in it's full furry with great ease (That's why I feel my pictures from my times spent in Venice came out so well -not because of any true skill I posses in Photography- rather the intensity and power of the city is so palpable that it can caught in a point and click matter)
However, the photographer must also work within the world around him and the technology disposable at his hands to capture what he wishes to bring out.
He does not have the infinite canvass of the brush to bring to life his world. In other words, if a photographer has a certain concept he wishes to bring out through his photo - let us say a picture of a single object- depending on how it is taken, it can bring out many -even conflicting- emotions. Therefore, in order bring out the desired image, the photographer rely on other factors -texture, light, shadow, and reflection (as you put it).
I think here in lies the power of black and white photography.
By limiting ourselves, we in truth can accomplish much more.
The lack of color focuses the eye on use of lighting, shadows, angle etc. thereby bringing out the desired effect. We distill the scene down to it's basic components -shapes and shades- in order to bring out the message hidden with in.
In Kabbalistic terms, we find a ma'amar Chazal, that in the place where one sees the greatness of G-d, in truth he is seeing the His humility. In other words, G-d in his essence is completely exalted beyond our frame of reference . . . the very fact that we can even experience miracles which break the world, that we can even know of his exalted nature, is because he has contracted himself to our realm.
In a similar light, l'havdil elef havdolos, we can say that by limiting the colors in the in a photograph allows the inner, basic, elements of the object to come out.
On the subject of the power of imagery, we find a letter written by The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe to his Son in Law, Reb Mendel Hornstein. (Vol III, 580) :
There are three types of life (found in the three types of imagery: Mental, Verbal, and Visual (physical) ) which though all three are posses life, they never the less remain different one from the other.
The difference between them is:
1. The life force of a Mental Image comes from the fact that he himself lives -Er Alein Lebt.
2. The life force of a Verbal Imagery allows the one who hears live by means of his words.
3. The life of a force a Visual Image brings the image itself to life.
The Previous Rebbe then explains the power exerted on his father, the Rebbe Rashab, by the paintings of the great Raphael . . . He ends of by saying,
"'I gained very much," said my father, "in my service of G-d by seeing those paintings. For I heard from my father, in the name of our teacher, the Ba'al Shem Tov, 'Az altz vas a Yid zeht un hert is das altz a hora'ah un a derech in avodas Hashem yisborach,' ("That everything that a Jew sees or hears is a directive in the service of G-d, blessed be He.")"
(Pictures of Venice by Mottel)