Note: This was written in March 2018 and forgotten about. Posting it now for posterity, and continuing relevance.
Every time I come to Denmark I start shooting in black ad white. This is a departure from my usual nod to riotous color. I find it almost criminal not to shoot monochrome here, as Copenhagen’s palette – calming to my eye, magnificent in its understatedness – coupled with this phenomenon of the Nordic light is a perfect reason to start stripping colour from all pictures and just revel in what the sun (or lack thereof) does to things at these latitudes. There’s little that’s loud, visually, in this city. Even the Crayola facades of the famous Nyhavn tourist area (the one with the canals, boats and dining) is a little desaturated after coming from, say, Chinatown in Singapore.
I could go on about being in sync with the modern Danish reserve with color, as much as I do my own country’s zealous embrace of it. In many ways this is true. What and how I shoot places, is as much a response to that city / country’s expression of itself as it is to the light I find there. I could also attribute it to the current season. Winter, with its hue dampening frost, doesn’t offer much in the way of chroma. Not to me, anyway.
But you could reduce this preference of monochrome over full colour mode to one thing:
I’m ridiculously attracted to / distracted by colour. Impossible to ignore at intensity. Arriving somewhere without, is a blissful release of mental lock, leaving that part of the brain free to wander.
I’ve been working at overcoming this color addiction in colorful places for several years, especially in Singapore, because it’s familiarity allows me to
repeatedly bang my eye against brick walls experiment with ways to see differently.
I’ve never really given myself over to making black and white pictures, which is odd considering it’s ever been black and white photos that have stuck with me. Jean Gaumy’s Men At Sea remains a book I go back to repeatedly for instruction and rejig. Koudelka’s Gypsies is one I still deeply regret giving away when I moved out of Australia (insufficient baggage allowance). I’m unsuccessfully trying not to plagarize Michael Kenna’s Mont St Michel work, and Kirsten Klein in general. One day I might be lucky enough look at Trent Parke’s Dream/Life in the flesh. I ache to shoot minimal snowscapes after a blizzard.
So in the last couple of years I’ve been experimenting with moving slowly over to black and white. And by this, I don’t mean I shoot black and white out of the camera. I still shoot RAW, so all colour information is there in the file. But I simply expose my pictures with a final black and white processed photo in mind.
I do cheat. Once in a while, Lightroom will load the full colour preview of a file, and will make me lose all monochromatic resolve. But I cheat less as my focus on this grows.
You could say I’m a bit further down that road than I was two or three years ago.
My best work lately is in black and white, not because it’s particularly good, but because those pictures are still the images I extend myself to make. I’ll never look at a scene with monochrome values on the brain (despite the fact that my electronic viewfinder is permanently set to black and white), so when I make pictures with no colour, there’s a lot of making sure it feels right, in composition, in response to light, and in hitting that shutter at the right time. Almost all of those pictures are out of whack technically, but more and more, those are the ones that feel right because I was attending to the right things (I’m sure in three years I’ll read this and go “horsesh*t”).
And what feels right in Denmark, is attention to the lines and shapes of things in at different times of the day. I’m mainly talking about architecture here. Copenhagen is an old city and buildings from bygone eras standing next to modern design marvels is a delight. The polar moods of winter, an even better place to revel in it. The city’s use of colour is so spare, my eye refuses to yield focus from the grace of its details, architectural or otherwise.