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The Monochrome Issue - Introduction - part 1 of 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

by Mile McNamee Published 01/04/2006

In spite of all the pressure exerted by the digital takeover on silver halide photography, monochrome, that most traditional of all image renderings, remains a favourite. Why should this be? Well, for starters, simple pictures are often better pictures and the abstraction of colour is a good way to start that simplification process. The ability of digital to mix up colour and mono on the same image or album spread opened up the possibility of coloured confetti on a mono background and coloured bouquets on a mono background.

Although these latter two are starting to look a bit dated, (peaking perhaps with Spielberg's Schindler's List) there are plenty of sophisticated album page designs being created in which a dash of colour adds a focal point to the composition.


In spite of all the pressure exerted by the digital takeover on silver halide photography, monochrome, that most traditional of all image renderings, remains a favourite. Why should this be? Well, for starters, simple pictures are often better pictures and the abstraction of colour is a good way to start that simplification process. The ability of digital to mix up colour and mono on the same image or album spread opened up the possibility of coloured confetti on a mono background and coloured bouquets on a mono background.

Although these latter two are starting to look a bit dated, (peaking perhaps with Spielberg's Schindler's List) there are plenty of sophisticated album page designs being created in which a dash of colour adds a focal point to the composition. Aside from this, digital also makes a pretty good fist of recreating the ancient imaging technologies such as gum bichromate, cyanotypes and lith derivatives - all without resorting to smelly, and often dangerous, chemicals.

We discuss these ancient (or alternative, as they are sometimes called) technologies later - you can make up your own mind as to the ethics and politics of using ink-jet pretending to be something else. Today I look at my reference books from 5 to 20 years ago and things like lith derivatives look a little lacking in sophistication. Back then we thought we were clever if we splashed a bit of gouache or dye onto a piece of Ilford Multigrade. The formularies in these books look amazing today - "double double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble" and all that! Long lists of chemicals in which to slosh a print just to make it a slightly different colour, chemicals with handling instructions that would terrify a technician from Porton Down.


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