I am a trusting girl. Accepting of what I see before me, I had always just assumed that Steve had predominantly used black and white film as most of the photos I saw of his were, well…in black and white.
However over the last couple of years, as I have spent more time looking in depth at his photography, (and I matured into a questioning adult rather than a gullible fool) I began to notice that pictures I had always thought to have been taken on b&w film were actually colour shots, reproduced in b&w. The Visions of China video shoot, for example. For years, I had only ever seen the images of Sylvian on the bank of TV screens in black and white but, suddenly, here were pictures from the same shoot, almost garish with the green and red of the Chinese uniforms the band were wearing. A close up shot of Mick’s face, the colours clashing in a way that worked so magnificently on him; the strangely alluring and beautifully juxtaposed photo of Steve on the side of the set with David looking oddly displaced in the background (taken by Richard apparently – and deconstructing that image could fill a whole blog post alone…..) – all as vibrant as the technicolour video itself.
Recent questions which Steve had answered via his sleepyard tumblr on this topic made me even more curious about his use of black & white vs colour film…..with references to Fin Costello showing him “the first steps in black and white printing” and confirming that the VoC shots were indeed “colour transparencies which were digitally converted to black and white”
So, had he actually used colour film all along and then chosen which of the images he would present in black & white? This made sense in a way – surely it is more accessible to do this, and therefore have the option of using either version, than solely using black & white? I was also keen to know whether there is a difference in the quality of an image taken in colour and then converted to b&w. So, although I could second guess this as much as I wanted to, the obvious thing was to ask the man himself.
Steve responded to my badgering with a very detailed and technical answer, which I won’t reproduce word for word here – mainly because he suggested that, as he is no expert in the subject, I probably shouldn’t quote him. Ahem.
However, the simple answer is; yes, he predominantly used black & white film “because back in the day before digital photography (or for that matter, personal computers capable of handling images), one didn’t really think of colour as a default medium for both colour and black & white output…..film is a chemical reaction to light, and the chemicals in colour film respond differently therefore results would differ. Colour was also more expensive to process and therefore better to avoid when b&w was required or preferred. There is most definitely a difference in colour converted into b&w, but nowadays this is something much more achievable with digitisation” (oops, I may have just quoted him!)
So, my initial theory was correct.
This then got me thinking about Steve’s photos of Mick – a man not known for his love of monochrome clothing, I wondered whether colour photography captured part of his personality more faithfully? I had my own view, but being big on democracy (and running out of ideas of my own) I thought I would ask a group of people who would have strong opinions on such a question – the good folk of TMK! Using a highly scientific approach, I did a quick straw poll on https://www.facebook.com/groups/teamMickKarn/ and was pleasantly surprised by the responses.
Overall, most people shared my view, that black and white is the preference. The delectable Mischa hit the nail on the head with her thoughts: “Colour is OK for snaps and souvenir shots but I rather think the objectivity of B&W – the fact it injects ‘not-reality’ into reality – that makes a difference when you are trying to suggest something beyond the relationship between the subject, the cameraman, and the person seeing the picture….and it does sort of take the subject out of time somewhat” .
However, fans of colour photos had equally valid points – Mick was a beautifully vibrant person and colour photographs give his unique style a sense of place in the history of the music scene of the time. It conjours up the brashness and flamboyance of the era. But, it also dates it somewhat, giving it that late 70s/early 80s feel that you get when you watch re-runs of TV programmes of the time.
There are some pictures of Mick that I feel benefit from being in colour……
But……I simply cannot imagine any of these photos being improved by being presented in all their technicolour glory
(For clarification: Steve explained that he had actually shot in both colour and black & white on the ‘Visions’ video set. The prints which are available for sale via the imageshop were shot in black & white and the “recently salvaged negatives” which are in the journal section of his website, were from the colour roll)
Limited edition, signed prints of these photos are available from http://www.stevejansen.com/imageshop/
You can ask Steve questions via his sleepyard tumblr http://sleepyard.tumblr.com/
All photos by Steve Jansen