Some see the world through rose-colored glasses, but many of the city's most famous image-makers prefer to see New York in black and white. Street photographers, portrait photographers, documentary photographers, photojournalists, almost every variety of shutterbug finds a soft place in the heart for black and white film. You remember film. Photographers Diane Arbus, Weegee, Paul Strand, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Margaret Bourke-White, Garry Winogrand, Edward Steichen, James Van Der Zee, Helen Levitt, Berenice Abbott, Lee Friedlander, Gordon Parks, Alfred Stieglitz, and many others selected and shared with us impossible, scandalous, mundane and beautiful moments of the city's story. It would be entertaining to select the most famous photographs of New York or of New Yorkers, but near the top of my list would be Alfred Eisenstaedt's "The Kiss at Times Square," the one of the sailor kissing the nurse during a V-J celebration on August 14, 1945, or Diane Arbus' "Exasperated Boy with Toy Hand Grenade," the disturbing image of a boy in Central Park from 1961.
Black and white photographs cut to the chase, drawing attention to content, composition, and always, the value of light. Shooting images in black and white, as opposed to color, makes amateur photographers like myself connect to a tradition of fine art photography. I remember a two-week stay in Paris many years ago when I took pictures in color for the first week, but for the second I switched to black and white film. I still value many of these latter images of Parisian places - a windy street in the Marais, a cafe on the Left Bank, or a walkway in the Place des Vosges, and I hardly know where I've stashed the color ones.
Yesterday, I spent three hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, mainly to see Roxy Paine's Maelstrom on the roof, the New American Wing and a small number of exhibits - Augustus Saint-Gaudens, The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984, and yes, a photo exhibit of Paris, Napoleon III and Paris. I didn't bring a conventional film camera, only a digital point and shoot, but I did recently install the "Vint B&W" app on my iPhone and wanted to try it. The images turned out just OK, but they bore me less than the color ones I took with my digital. The black and white vintage qualities automatically date the images, like I was there not yesterday but in 1959. I was OK with that.
A Selection of Photography-related Posts on Walking Off the Big Apple
• The Lomo/Leica Walk
• Walker Evans, a Block on E. 61st Street in 1938, and a Visit in April of 2009
• The Flâneur's Sketchbook and Camera
• How to Take Better Images With the iPhone 3G Camera
• Making My Own Manhatta (on Paul Strand)
• William Eggleston and Alexander Calder at the Whitney (Note: If you work in color photography, study Eggleston)
• Earning Her Wrinkles: Rosalind Solomon at Silverstein Gallery
• Capturing the Big Mo: Michele Asselin's Photographs of Mike Huckabee
• The Intrinsic Beauty of Gotham in the Falling Snow
• Diane Arbus and the Hotel Chelsea Walk: No Freaks, No Punks
Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from July 12, 2009 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art made with the Vint B&W app for iPhone3G. Click on an image to enlarge. When I illustrate future posts, I'll try not to bum myself out if the pictures are in color.
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