“He understood for the first time that black-and-white was the only true medium for film as an idea, film in the mind. He almost knew why but not quite . . . it was completely necessary, black-and-white, one more neutralizing element, a way in which the action becomes something near to elemental life, a thing receding into its drugged parts.”

Don DeLillo, Point Omega

After years of primarily black-and-white photography, I’ve been drifting towards color these days. Perhaps it’s because this summer feels extra-vivid. But I’m still drawn to monochrome moods. Sometimes color gets in the way. It conjures specific memories and decades: the cool pastels of the early 1960s, the overheated textures of the 1970s. With all the filters at our disposal today, the technical constraints of color that defined a fair chunk of the twentieth century have become an aesthetic shorthand with buttons labeled retro, kitsch, purple haze, sepia, magic hour, pinhole, etc.

But whether you encounter a black-and-white photo in an old shoebox, hanging on a gallery wall, or displayed on your screen, it always looks pretty much the same. You’re not looking at the photographer’s favorite decade, you’re looking at the subject.

I wonder if there’s anything to learn from my recent drift towards color and my desire to return to monochrome. Perhaps there aren’t any lessons beyond the allure of novelty and the craving for clarity. Which brings to mind a challenging quote from Andrei Tarkovsky that I’ve been pondering:

“It is obvious that art cannot teach anyone anything, since in four thousand years humanity has learnt nothing at all. We should long ago have become angels had we been capable of paying attention to the experience of art, and allowing ourselves to be changed in accordance with the ideals it expresses. Art only has the capacity, through shock and catharsis, to make the human soul receptive to good.”

Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time