Memoirs -- fact and fiction, Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende

That time when ‘everything looked better in black and white’

Remember when your friends were nominating you to do stuff on Facebook that you wouldn’t dream of ever doing on your own?

Things like, “post the album covers of the seven LPs that changed your life.” And, “post the covers of 10 books that made you who you are today.” And, oh, whatever.

I can’t recall because I just don’t do that sort of thing.

Or maybe I just wasn’t nominated all that often.

One I did bite on was this: “Over the course of a week, post one black-and-white photo each day, with no explanation.”

This was three years ago (and, if I didn’t say it before, thank you, Susan Shors …)

I didn’t bite right away for lots of good reasons.

  • I didn’t take black-and-white photos.
  • I lived on a tropical island. Who wants black-and-white photos of paradise?
  • I dislike these Facebook challenges.
  • I’m not a photographer. I’m the owner of a cell phone that also takes photographs.
  • Did I mention that I was living on a gorgeous tropical island that is also extraordinarily colorful?

So then we took a trip to Merida, which is also colorful. And it is also a city — and cities, you know, just cry out for black-and-white photos to be taken. Cities aren’t shy or vain. They like B&Ws. And B&Ws like them.

After a couple of days roaming around Merida, I could see where this and that photo might be improved somewhat by draining the color.

But what I noticed mostly was my relationship to certain images changed significantly when they became black and white. I started seeing more in the composition, the shadows, the shapes, the emotional impact. Things came to the surface that I wasn’t aware of in the color versions.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, those black and white images have popped up this week in Facebook memories.

And I still like most of them; all of which I am reprinting here, for better or worse.

Now, I get that Paul Simon was referring to nostalgia and not aesthetics in “Kodachrome.” In 1973, he originally sang, “Everything looks worse in black and white.” But in 1991 in Central Park he sang “Everything looked better in black and white.”

Showing some growth and introspection there, Paul.

I’m happy with “everything looks different in black and white” — as long as I continue to ask things like, “How does it look different?” and “Why does that difference matter?” Draining the color just because you have an app that can do it is pointless.

Ultimately, you have to question whether the change better, significant, different enough, or enlightening.

If not, don’t bother.

I must have a thing for black and white because some time after I accepted my friend Susan’s challenge on Facebook, I wrote about black and white photos on my blog “Bound for Belize.”

In the blog I summarized my feelings this way, “If God wanted Belize to be a black and white photo, he would have called it Lower Manhattan.”

Which is a little disingenuous. I can barely recall what Lower Manhattan looks like. I do vividly recall Belize. And I think it survives well in both vivid color and black and white.

I’m thinking, too, that now that I live in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I ought to go back through my photos and find seven that might work as well or better as black and white images.

Well, enjoy or not. I promise not to challenge anyone on Facebook to post a bunch of pictures.


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