The Power of Black and White Photography – An Example

Angel of Grief - Stanford University - 2012

I learned so much about the power of photography in the short time I had with my good friend Chris Gulker before he passed away in late 2010. For most of his work, Chris was dedicated to creating powerful black and white images – and he did so with great passion and flair. His images were almost always of people – and, sometimes, about events with people in them. Late in his life, he began shooting portraits – mostly in color – for InMenlo.com. But his passion remained the black and white photography he loved.

What is it about these images – when they shed the color that we expect? How do they become even more “powerful” – when losing that colorful dimension?

In my experience, going to monochrome is a fascinating way to explore images – first looking at them as originally shot in color – and then moving them to monochrome, shedding the influence of the color, and just getting down to their essence – of light and shadow.

This image of the Angel of Grief is an example. It’s a classic piece of memorial statuary located near the Stanford family tomb on the Stanford University campus. It’s tucked away in an out of the way place that you come across while walking. It’s so striking when you see it – a memorial to Henry Lathrop, brother to Jane Stanford, based on an 1894 sculpture by William Wetmore Story.

Late in May, I took Lily for a walk through this area – including the Arizona Cactus Garden and the Stanford memorial. I had along my Canon 5D Mark II with the 135mm f/2.0L lens. The late afternoon light was streaming in from the upper right of the image. A powerful sculpture – in powerful light.

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