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Color, or Black and White?

I have a fairly extensive library of books featuring the work of a number of famous (in the photography world, anyway) and not-so-famous photographers. Until recently, however, I’ve had only one book of photographs by Edward Weston, and even that one contained photographs by both him and his son Brett, whose images I really enjoy. As important as Edward Weston is in the history of photography, his photographs, with a few exceptions (Pepper #30! - a web search for just that word and number will get you there) have never really resonated with me.

Last fall I visited my friend Danny Rosen’s Lithic Bookstore & Gallery (visit if you are passing through!) in Fruita, Colorado, and was pleasantly surprised to find a nice book I’d never seen, Supreme Instants: The Photography of Edward Weston. Of course I had to buy it, along with a book featuring information on, and paintings by, one of my favorite painters, J. M. W. Turner. The Weston book contains some excellent text by Beaumont Newhall and a good cross-section of Edward’s photographs.

Toward the end of the book are a number of color photos, something Weston is not known for, and there is some interesting text about his experimentation with color. There are two notable quotes by the photographer himself: find a few subjects that can be expressed in either color or black-and-white.

But you find more that can be said only through one of them.

But those who say that color will eventually replace black-and-white are talking nonsense. The two do not compete with each other. They are different means to different ends.

In the past twenty years my personal photography has gone through roughly four five-year phases, with the focus in each phase, in chronological order, on color, B&W, color, B&W. In the first two rounds I’m not sure I fully perceived what Weston expressed in the first of the above two quotes. But by the time I got to the third and fourth five-year periods I began to understand. Part of that learning process included making photographs in the first two periods that just did not come out well in the format I was impressing upon them. Now I have a much better sense of what works and doesn’t work (at least for me, and the way that I see the world), in each of color or black-and-white.

The two photographs below are obviously identical, other than the fact that one is in color and the other is a B&W version of the same photograph. I feel this might be one of those cases where either is effective, but I’ll let you be the judge - the location is a place in Eastern Oregon named Guano Valley. I grew up in Wyoming, and thought that parts of it were pretty desolate, but the drive from Lakeview Oregon to Winnemucca, Nevada has given me a whole new appreciation of the word!

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