We live in a world where colour surrounds us, so why would anyone want to take an achromatic, black-and-white photograph? What draws us to a B&W photograph? Many modern colour images are brightened to add a sense of the exotic in the same way that B&W invokes an air of nostalgia. B&W does not exaggerate the truth in the same way that colour does. It does sometimes veil the truth, but in many ways it is an equalizer. Colours and the emotions they represent are stripped away, leaving nothing but raw structure. We are then less likely to draw emotions into the interpretation of achromatic photographs. There is a certain rawness to B&W photographs, which cannot be captured by colour.
Every colour image is of course built upon an achromatic image. The tonal attributes provides the structure, the chrominance the aesthetic elements that help us interpret what we see. Black and white photographs offer simplicity. When colour is removed from a photograph, it forces a different perspective of the world. To create a pure achromatic photograph means the photographer has to look beyond the story posed by the chromatic elements of the scene. It forces one to focus on the image. There is no hue, no saturation to distract. The composition of the scene suddenly becomes more important. Both light and the darkness of shadows become more pronounced. The photographic framework of a world without colour forces one to see things differently. Instead of highlighting colour, it helps highlight shape, texture, form and pattern.
Sometimes even converting a colour image to B&W using a filter can make the image content seem more meaningful. Colour casts or odd-ball lighting can often be vanquished if the image is converted. Noise that would appear distracting in a colour image, adds to an image as “grain” in B&W. B&W images will always capture the truth of a subjects structure, but colours are always open to interpretation due to the way individuals perceive colour.
Above is a colour photograph of a bronze sculpture taken at The Vigeland Park in Oslo, a sculpture park displaying the works of Gustav Vigeland. The colour image is interesting, but the viewer is somewhat distracted by the blue sky, and even the patina on the statue. A more interesting take is the achromatic image, obtained via the Instagram Inkwell filter. The loss of colour has helped improve the contrast between the sculpture and its background.