The beauty and artistry of black and white: A photographer shares favourites from his archive
The photograph is the window to the story, photojournalist Paul Daly says
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.
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.
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.
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?