Today I’m really happy to be able to bring you a conversation with Nancy Lehrer. Those of you that used to participate in our forum before we had to close it down due to the constant spamming, may well remember Nancy. She always had something useful and insightful to add to the conversation and started a number of great topics herself too if I recall.
Nancy has just written a book called Life Happens in COLOR – a Street Photography Manifesto, in which she shares some beautiful photography, as well as her firm opinions on the use of color in street photography. I, unfortunately, had to have this conversation having only skimmed over the book because I lost the time I’d set aside to read it yesterday to technical issues with the website, but with those behind me now, I really enjoyed this conversation, and I think you will too.
Here is a brief outline of our conversation:
Nancy tells us about herself and how she got into photography
What is it about street photography that appeals to Nancy?
What motivated Nancy to write her new book Life Happens in COLOR – a Street Photography Manifesto?
We then talk through the below three photographs from the book.
Nancy gives us three pieces of golden advice for making better street photographs
You can check out Nancy’s work and grab a copy of her book here: http://www.inancyimages.com
Here are three images that we talked about during our conversation.
Simply beautiful and very thought-provoking work from Nancy here. Sorry if you usually read, but today’s is a listen too only episode. 🙂
Morocco Tour & Workshop Nov 12 – 23, 2018
The closest I come to this kind of photography, as I mentioned in our conversation, is Morocco. If you’d like to join this year’s Morocco Tour and Workshop from November 12 to the 23rd we do still have some open spaces, so check out the details at https://mbp.ac/morocco
Nancy’s web site: http://www.inancyimages.com
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With so much praise of color in this episode, can you roughly imagine how often I involuntarily cringed and winced while listening?! ?
Seriously, I think it was a thought-provoking episode. I wholeheartedly agree with your remark on images not making sense in black & white when they are in color. Just like Nancy apparently having to face the notion that street photography must be black&white, I often find myself having to justify myself for converting to black&white (e.g., “A sunset cannot work in black&white, it is all about the color. Why did you do it?”). And I often find those comments a little narrow-minded because obviously, those viewers didn’t even try to understand what I actually wanted to show.
To me, from the viewer’s perspective, the question of black&white or color should be one of storytelling. If the photographer chose black&white, he or she might have wanted to emphasize something else than the color. And if Nancy decided to go for this vivid colors, then even I as a black&white photographer should try to understand the story she tried to convey with this decision.
With both of us loving black and white so much, I’m with you 100%.
There have been times when I’ve fought the decision to convert to black and white. Sometimes I want to create a cohesive set, and force myself to convert an image to black and white despite the color adding to the image. Generally though, when I do that, I keep a color version as well, and continue to use that as a single piece.
I also mentioned a conversation with a friend recently about some of my Hokkaido work, which is mostly black and white even without a conversion, but I do occasionally keep some images in color, because it’s either an important part of the image, or it is simply too nice to throw away.
You hit the nail on the head though; I agree that this is down to each individual photographer to decide. One of the images from this year’s Hokkaido trip that I kept was a sunset. The warm color was just too good for me to throw out, although I have to admit, I did try it in black and white, just in case. 🙂
We all make our own decisions, and I think we are entitled to decide by ourselves, and don’t need to worry what others think. I agree that it’s narrow-minded to simply rule out one option or another when it’s really all just about our own personal expression. It’s our art afterall!
It is interesting for me to hear that you sometimes get feedback that you should not have processed something (your sunset) into black and white. I agree with both you and Martin, that the photographer decides the intent, and what I want to add is that it should be a real intent. The photographer makes an intentional decision on what they want to say and how to say it.
I have a favorite image of mine from Ireland of a person walking down a forested path with a dog in spring. The image just screams “GREEN” and with that, I knew it would be converted to b&w in my portfolio. But beyond that fact, it relies on tonal contrasts in b&w. The white dog is in a shadow area – creating a tonal contrast. The person is wearing a jacket that is blowing, making it look like a cape, and is in silhouette against a sunny area of the path – another tonal contrast. The trees have all this beautiful texture – a third use of tonal contrast. (https://inancy.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/ireland_20150508_02176-edit.jpg)
Thanks again for your comments and feedback.