Thursday, September 1, 2011

Is it real, or is it black-and-white?

Tudor City Bike (original), 2010

Every now and then I take a picture that I like for its subject, composition or graphic elements. But there's something about it that doesn't work and detracts from the foregoing. A lot of the time it's a minor detail: an object; someone walking into the scene; a utility wire or some other intrusion. Many of these you can take care of with a little judicious Photoshopping.
But sometimes the intrusive element turns out to be color, the very multi-dimensional element that gives the scene much of its reality. Take the picture above. I was walking in the Tudor City neighborhood in New York and happened upon a little sliver of a park named for diplomat and Nobel Prize winner Ralph Bunche. Located at the end of East 43rd Street, Ralph Bunche Park consists essentially of a staircase leading down from 43rd street to 1st Avenue and the United Nations.
At the top of the stairs I found the scene shown above. The morning sun was warm and golden, highlighting the wisteria and casting a warm shadow behind the bicycle. I liked the moment and captured it in my camera. It was only when I got home and started looking through the pictures from that trip that I discovered that there was either nothing worth keeping about this little moment in time or else something in it was getting in the way of what I saw when I took the picture.
Our minds are excellent when it comes to effortlessly and unconsciously correcting things we think we see, or at least tuning out the things we don't want to see. The camera, on the other hand, is without emotion and makes only the simplest and most blunt of technical adjustments.
In this case the camera did an excellent job of collecting information that accurately portrays what was taking place in front on me that morning at in Tudor City. But it could not read my mind when it came to emphasizing the part of the scene I wanted to be the focal point.
As soon as I converted the image from color to black-and-white, the distractions disappeared. The color of the wisteria growing on the building and the faint color behind the iron railing at the left no longer drew the eye away from the bicycle.
I like the black-and-white version better. To my eye it's more about the bike and about the contrasts between the bright morning light and the shadows. Although there wasn't anything time-specific about the color version, the black-and-white version also seems more timeless.
What do you think?
 Tudor City Bike (BxW), 2011

1 comment:

  1. It IS amazing sometimes to see what black and white can do to an image. Good post illustrating that!