On February 17th, I posted a Question of Color, in which I reflected upon some of the challenges to making decisions about whether or not to work in color or black and white, especially when the decision is left to be made after the shoot, as it is with digital photography.
This question arose again when I was post-processing my images from the Blue Devils in Paramin, Maraval on Carnival Monday. A big part of the Blue Devils character is, obviously, their blue color, so black and white images would leave out that element. On the other hand, some of the same problems with color came up with these images, in particular the question of whether or not the blue paint was visually distracting from other content within the images, like the facial expressions of the devils or the on-lookers. Another factor for consideration was the night's poor lighting, the Devil's rapid movements, and my lack of a quality external flash. As a result, some of the images, which I find to be of a nice moment, look really crappy, but a black and white conversion diminishes the visual impact of the technical deficiencies. An example of such is the image below, of a Devil attempting to scare a nonchalant onlooker, and failing. I find her body language, the way she cooly drags from her cigarette and cocks her head to the side while maintaining eye contact with the masked devil to very sexy, an unexpected feeling given context of the Devil's activities. It's a nice moment, but it was dark, there were no street lights, and the only flash I have is my camera's built-in flash. The result is lighting that is too harsh and lacks atmosphere (see below).
When I was working on these images, I was trying to decide whether to publish them in color or in black and white, but instead, I chose to do both. My final image set consists of 6 color images and 5 black and white images. Although photographers usually stick to either all color or exclusively black and white in a single presentation, I've seen a few photographers successfully employ a mixture of color and black and white in their work. One of my favorite examples is Matt and Melissa Eich's multimedia presentation, Love in the First Person, published by MediaStorm.
Although the story is told predominately in color, there are two black and white images within the first 60 seconds. The piece also incorporates black and white video. Overall, it's a practically flawless piece of multimedia storytelling and I think part of its strength is its selective use of black and white images to evoke a different feel.
I suppose the real question is why you chose to present an image in color or black and white. With most artistic decisions, there should be some thought involved in it, and technical deficits probably don't constitute a good enough reason. Regardless, click here to see my image set from the Paramin Blue Devils and to decide for yourself if I made the right decision or if the color/black and white combination is just awkward.
For fourteen years, Scott Strazzante followed, and photographed, two families, the Cagwins and the Grabenhofers, as the Cagwin's farm home is demolished and the Grabenhofers move into the housing development that takes its place. The seven and a half minute long piece compares life for the two families, but its the presentation of the ideas that tells the story so convincingly. The piece is filled with carefully selected images presented side by side, a shot of the Cagwins next to one of the Grabenhofers, and although throughout the piece, the moments depicted of the Cagwins all take place years before the Grabenhofers' home was even built, the side by side image presentation conveys Strazzante's idea of Common Ground so perfectly, and so beautifully. Strazzante's conscious decisions about what form to use to most effectively tell the story is not only limited to his selection and pairing of images. There is a very compelling sequence at 1:43 in which the Grabenhofer father is teaching his son how to ride a bike, and part of what makes the sequence so compelling is Strazzante's use of stop motion animation instead of video. The still images, presented rapidly in sequence to give a jagged, uneven, video-like effect is so much more effective than the same moments would have been with video. In this case, the stop motion animation mirrors the son's unsteadiness on his bike, and emphasizes that all of life is just made up of individual moments, like individual still photographs. In the words of the famous Henri Cartier-Bresson, "Life is once, forever".