Black and White vs Color

Most of the images I took with my Holga when I first began this project were taken on black and white film.

The original color image of a crumbling wall in the ghost town of Harrisburg, Utah.

I did add a sepia type coloration to the images in Photoshop after I scanned them into the computer, however.

When I was an undergraduate studying photography at NYU long, long ago, we learned about alternative processes and did some sepia toning. Sepia toning is the process by which the metallic silver compounds in a black and white print are replace with more stable silver sulfide compounds. The increased stability of the silver sulfide means the prints are likely to last much longer than an untoned image would. It also happens to change the image from consisting of shades of grey to shades of brown.

The sepia toned version of the image of a crumbling wall in the ghost town of Harrisburg, Utah.

Most people incorrectly assume those old brown colored images became brown simply due to age. In reality, those old images were converted to brown and white images shortly after they were printed in order to make them withstand time.

It’s a pretty simple process, you just soak the prints in a combination of potassium ferricyanide followed by a sodium sulfide solution.

In the digital age, sepia toning is even easier and can be done with the click of a mouse button.

The black and white version of the image of a crumbling wall in the ghost town of Harrisburg, Utah.

But that leaves the digital photographer with a number of choices. Do you showcase the original colors captured by the digital camera? Do you convert the images to black and white? Do play on the audiences assumptions that sepia toned images feel older and convert the images to a sepia color to evoke a feeling of age?

This is one of those choices that comes down to the preference of the artist. At this point, I’m not sure which choice I’d like to go with. The nice thing is that, while printing and toning those images would’ve taken hours in an analog world, with Photoshop, switching between the three choices takes just a few seconds.