Black and white negative film

There are more than sixteen separate emulsions from which to choose. These range from slow, ultra fine grained emulsions to extremely fast, reasonably sharp, available-light film, permitting photographers to shoot scenes inaccessible in the past. A shared characteristic of all these films is their vastly improved grain structure. This in turn has led to improvements in adjacent edge sharpness. The result—sharper negatives from faster film.

Although black-and-white film use only accounts for only a small percentage of total film sales, however, it still remains the most persuasive form of photo expression because, say its adherents, its aesthetic potential cannot be matched by the realism of color. Whether or not this is a defensible position is not the point What is obvious is the fact that black-and-white forms much of the body of photo expression that is regarded as the highest form of the art. Black-andwhite film has some notable advantages over color. First, its use reduces all the visual elements in a scene to levels of gray. Skillful manipulation of the camera and, even more so, skillful darkroom work give careful and dedicated users almost infinite control over the look of the finished print. The range of control is far greater than with any color process.

At one time, local commercial photo labs routinely offered extensive black-and-white processing and printing services. With the ascendancy of color, especially the color print as the medium of choice for the masses of amateur snapshooters and advanced amateurs, these black-and-white services have dwindled alarmingly. Significant numbers of photographers who would like to work in black and white but don't live near large metropolitan areas are finding it increasingly difficult to find custom blackand-white facilities. And even if a nearby lab does black-and-white work, turn-around time can be three to five times longer than color printing.
Aside from the difficulty some experience finding dependable and professional black-and-white labs, the medium draws to it those individuals who see the world as some of the greatest figures in our craft did and still do. Names like Bresson, Lange, Smith, Weston, Adams, and Brassi come to mind. All evoke memories of symbol-laden imagery. Form, shape, line, light, and contrast were content. Today, those traditions are carried forward by the likes of John Sexton, Eva Rubenstein, Jerry Ulsemann, and many others. For them, black-and-white makes their visual statements immediate and clear, unobstructed by the imposition of color. It is the medium of choice because of its ability to distill a message down to its basic elements. With no concerns about elements such as color balance, black-and-white photographers are free to concentrate on the composition and meaning of the image itself. Whether this is true or not is a matter of great debate. Black-and-white is not for everyone. The fact remains that many photographers, myself included, simply do not see in black-and-white. We prefer color for numerous reasons, some of which we don't quite understand ourselves.


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