I’m a color guy. I love color. I love painting in color and I love making color art on the computer. I’ve been studying and working with color for the last 30 years so that I could master it. I also work in black and white. That’s mostly in my drawings and with ink drawings specifically. I don’t think I’ve painted in black and white very much. Nor have I done much black and white photography before. That is until this week. Now I’m doing some black and white photography and trying to figure out what is the point of it is.

I first did black and white photography when I was in college. I had my first and only photo class in the Spring of 1985. The point of black and white photography was easy back then. It was the type of photography that you could do on your own in your own (or the school’s) darkroom. It was just a camera, an enlarger, a negative can, and a few trays full of chemical. Not the easiest thing in the world but doable. It was much easier than trying to make color photos. Multiply all those chemical baths by three or four with color photos.

I liked working in the darkroom. It was fun to be able to enlarge and crop a photo anyway I wanted to. It was also a thrill to see the image come to life on a piece of paper before my eyes. I only had that one semester of photography but I continued to work in the darkroom for the following two semesters that I was there. After that I never worked in a darkroom again. I continued to take photos but they were color photos that I had processed at a regular drop off photo place. They were mostly snapshots of friends and events. On occasion I would shoot black and white film but that was kind of a gimmick. I shot color film 99% of the time.

When I hit the age of digital photography I adopted the technology early. I got my first digital camera in the year 2000 and by then I had been working regularly in Photoshop for about six years. I had a scanner and a printer too so even before the age of digital photography I could scan in my photos and print them out. So I continued to work in color. Why not? I didn’t need a darkroom.

I’ve had a few inkjet printers over the years but my current one is a Canon iP870. One of the reasons I bought it is because I could buy cheap ink for it. For a decade or more I used Epson printers and only genuine Epson ink. My Epson printer had eight ink cartridges and one of them was always running low. The “Low Ink” light was never off. To add insult to injury it cost about $90 to buy an eight pack of ink. That’s just one cartridge of each color. I used to ration out my printing for years. Then I couldn’t take it any more and bought the Canon.

My Canon printer has six ink cartridges. Red, yellow, blue, grey, black, and a second black. For a six pack of the genuine Canon inks it would cost me about $80. Instead I get off-brand which has three of each ink cartridges for $25. That’s a $215 difference.

As a result of cheap ink I print a lot more photos and such. But it turns out I use a lot more color ink than black ink. Recently I was printing out a lot of photos and had to order another $25 pack of ink. So I now have a fresh stock of color ink plus the black ink from the last two ink packages I bought. That’s nine cartridges of the two types of black. There is no end in sight of the extra black either. That’s what made me decide to do some black and white photography.

I take all my photos in color but it’s no big deal to turn them into black and white. Though that’s a technical assessment and not a creative one. I can actually turn them to black and white in any number of ways with any number of results so which should be my way?

That brings me to the question of “What is the point of black and white photography?” I’m not sure if I have been able to answer that question for myself just yet. I’ve made about eight photos at this point and I don’t think I’m closer to an answer. The photos look alright but I’m still not sure if they should exist in black and white. Wouldn’t color be better? I don’t know but I think so.

It’s my street photos that I’ve been using to make these black and white photos out of. I made the first one in Photoshop on my computer but then switched over to my iPad and an app called Snapseed. I like doing most of the work on the iPad and then switching over to Photoshop to put on some finishing touches an print it out. I’m very cognizant of my grey tones and I seem to be trying to make a black and white photo as rich and interesting as a color photo. I’m not sure if that’s the way I want to go but I’m also not sure if there is any other way. I’m so used to color.

A funny thing is that I have no problem seeing the point of other people’s black and white photos. I even collect photography and I have black and white prints and books of black and white prints. I never ask myself “What’s the point of black and white photography?” when it’s someone else’s work. So why am I so baffled by that question when it’s my own photos?

I even bought myself one of those inexpensive Itoya 8.5×11 portfolio cases just so I could flip through the black and white photos as I look at them. All my color photos are in individual sleeves stacked in boxes. I can take them out and thumb through them one by one. That’s generally how I like to look at photos. But with these back and white ones I wanted to look at them as a whole. Each one is part of a bigger thing. A search for why those photos exist. “Just to use up some ink” is a catalyst for them existing but not the answer to my question. I’m still looking for that answer.

One funny thing about this whole affair is that I decided to keep track of how much ink I was using to print these black and white photos. Sometimes printers use the color cartridges to print in black and white and I was trying to avoid that. I don’t think my printer was using color in that way but I discovered it wasn’t using much black ink either. It was using up a lot of the grey cartridge. I ended up having to buy four new grey cartridges on their own. Now I’m thinking of printing some mini comics with black and white with no grey in in at all. Will see if that ever exists.