Nfld. & Labrador·Photo Essay

The beauty and artistry of black and white: A photographer shares favourites from his archive

Photojournalist Paul Daly started his career in a pre-digital era, and still cherishes the medium of black and white — a style he calls the "tuxedo of photography." He shares some of his favourite photos over a four-decade career.

The photograph is the window to the story, photojournalist Paul Daly says

Facing deportation, Leticia Cables, a nanny from the Philippines, took sanctuary in a Roman Catholic church in Edmonton for three months in 1999. She was eventually deported, but was subsequently allowed to return to Canada. (Paul Daly)

I am an old-school photojournalist. I miss the simplicity of film — black and white, colour and transparencies, or slides, if you will. 

Before photographs, there were etchings and paintings, both with so much texture. I learned photography from the photojournalists at the Sunday Tribune, the newspaper in Dublin where I started my career.

As a junior photographer, I was taken to the National Gallery of Ireland to study composition of paintings and we discussed how that image would have been taken as a photograph. I especially enjoyed the Norman Rockwell exhibitions and books; his compositions were amazing.

When I began in 1983, newspapers were still a big business. In Dublin at the time, there were several daily papers, with morning and evening editions. There were so many journalists then that there were pubs that catered just to the profession. There was one — Toners — just for photographers.

We had great competition, but there was a friendly rivalry between the photojournalists. We all covered the same news events, but we each wanted to have the best picture, the one that would capture the attention of the reader.

The photograph, after all, was the window to the story.

A demonstration against an injunction forbidding a 14-year-old rape victim from obtaining an abortion in Britain was held in February 1992 outside the Government Buildings in Dublin. (Paul Daly)

These days, I mourn the loss of black and white images. The stillness of a black and white image is compelling. It draws you in, and forces you to take time to process the information within the image.

Black and white used to be associated with truth. You believed something because it was right there, in front of you — yes — "in black and white." An image from film, printed in a darkroom, could not be easily manipulated. There wasn't much suspicion of fake news in those days.

To me, a black and white photograph is timeless. I tell people that black and white is "the tuxedo of photography": it is always classy. I recently discovered a website dedicated to black and white pictures of people's grandparents and parents. They were amazing. I would call it art.

Old Man’s Cove on the southeast coast of Labrador. (Paul Daly)

Perhaps that's because film was expensive, and processing was also expensive. The photographers took their time to set up the image and were particular about when and what they photographed.

Today, everybody with a phone has a camera. There are people with thousands of pictures on their phone, thousands posted to social media where they are seen and liked, and then gone and forgotten. How many people have lost those pictures when phones or computers crash? 

Very few actually print their memories anymore. Before digital, people documented important milestones, and treasured those special moments.

Before I moved to St. John's, I remember coming across a renovation project in Dublin, an old house. There was a dumpster outside, in the alleyway, and I saw photographs on the ground including an enlarged black and white of folks on camels with pyramids in the background; it was obviously Egypt, and their dress was of the 1800s.

It made me sad to think of whom it belonged to. I wondered about the subjects; I wish I had picked up that picture and kept it; there was obviously a story there of a life lived.

A black and white image requires time

These days I often feel overwhelmed by many of the pictures I see out there. I liken it to folks using all capital letters when they are texting or emailing. The colour distracts me, shouting at me with over-manipulation. Even scenes of natural beauty have been digitally enhanced, not allowing me to interpret the scene and discover it on my own.

Shelley Neville, Cherilyn Carroll, Petrina Bromley, Sheila Williams and Kelly-Ann Evans of Spirit of Newfoundland stand in front of the Roman Catholic Basilica in St. John's. The troupe presented its adaptation of the Broadway musical Nunsense at the Waterford International Festival of Light Opera in 2005. (Paul Daly)

I think instead of being called a photograph, it should be labelled a graphic image. (This is my photojournalist self talking.)

In my world, if a picture is manipulated in any way and used in a media outlet, the caption will say "photo illustration." With some international publications for whom I shoot digital images, I need to submit both jpegs and raw files (which would be like the negative on a roll of film) so there will never be a discrepancy with the integrity of the image.This happens because some photographers had digitally altered their images before submission, and this reflected poorly on the news outlet.

They say that our attention span has greatly been reduced since the advent of the internet, maybe to less than that of a goldfish.

A black and white image requires time. The light and composition pull you in, and it's up to you to discover the details. There is no distraction, no bright colours pushing you away — that might sound odd, but think about it.

A gallery of memories

Here are a selection of some of my black and white photographs. Some were taken on film, and printed in a darkroom. Some are digital. None are manipulated.

What do you see?

Ron Wood, Jerry Lee Lewis, former Miss Ireland Michelle Rocca and Van Morrison are pictured outside Bad Bob’s nightclub in Dublin in October 1993. (Paul Daly)
The Trinity Ball is an annual event that draws more than 7,000 students and graduates of Trinity College, Dublin. (Paul Daly)
The Marystown Shipyard in 2003. (Paul Daly)
A 2007 view from the London Eye, or the Millennium Wheel, a cantilevered observation wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames in London. (Paul Daly)
Danny Williams is jubilant over his win in the 2007 Newfoundland and Labrador election. The Progressive Conservatives returned to power with an even stronger majority. (Paul Daly)
Mother Teresa, who joined the order of the Loreto Sisters and spent two months as a novice in Rathfarnham in Dublin in 1928, returned to Ireland many times and was given the 'Freedom of Dublin' in 1993. (Paul Daly)
A young pianist prepares for the annual Kiwanis Music Festival in St John’s in March 2005. (Paul Daly)
The Dublin Fire Brigade tackles a warehouse blaze in 1990. (Paul Daly)
Wall Street, the financial district in downtown Manhattan, is pictured in 2013. (Paul Daly)
Newfoundland country icon Dick Nolan at home on Bell Island in June 2005. (Paul Daly)
Author and actor Joel Thomas Hynes, left, with his uncle, singer-songwriter Ron Hynes, on the streets of St. John's. (Paul Daly)
Icebergs in Bonavista Bay, on May 17, 2019. (Paul Daly)
Bono is seen backstage at U2's Stop Sellafield concert in Manchester, England. on June 19, 1992. (Paul Daly)
The Palmer Sisters, a group of singers from Newfoundland and Labrador, are pictured on a desert tour near Doha, Qatar, in 2005. (Paul Daly)
A survivor of the abuse at the hands of the Irish Christian Brothers at Mount Cashel stands at the site of the monument in October. These original gates, without a plaque or description, are the only reminder of Mount Cashel Orphanage, which once occupied this property in St. John’s. (Paul Daly)
In 2005, Capt. Tim Paschke, Capt. Dan Franklin, Staff Sgt. Joe Thayer and Capt. Jason Wright, members of the U.S. Air Force 67 Special Operation Squadron — known as the 'Night Owls' — say St. John's is a welcome layover destination. The squadron is based at the RAF Mildenhall in the U.K. (Paul Daly)

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Paul Daly is an award-winning international photojournalist based in St. John’s.

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