Shape and form
Without colour to distract, the eye pays more attention to these other image qualities
There are two related issues here. Shape in photography can be pushed in two directions. One is towards the two-dimensional and graphic – ‘pure’ shapes that behave almost as cutouts, as in a strong silhouette. The other is towards creating the impression of volume, roundedness and three dimensions. In either case, the emphasis is on formal graphic structure. Subtracting colour enhances the remaining qualities, and both shape and form are the strongest. Shape concentrates on the graphic structure of an image, while form is to do with the threedimensionality (essentially, the volume and sense of roundedness, which we looked at in issue 61).
The two qualities are interconnected, because shape can sometimes be used to define form. This in turn gives a sense of volume and presence. Shape depends heavily on outline, and in photography this is defined by edge contrast, which you can see strongly in the picture of the church, the pale wood standing out against the darker background of grass and sky. This contrast draws the eye more in monochrome than in colour, because there are no hues to compete for attention. As Joel Meyerowitz, a photographer who moved from black and white to colour, put it, “Black and white has more form. Somehow pictures look like there’s a compressed formal structure running through them, tying events together.”
(Far left) A wooden church in Iceland that is arguably stronger in black and white, at least when processed this way for good contrast, with the shape of the fencing and white church emphasised. Subtracting the colour focuses attention on the geometry.
(Left) The side-lit torso of a Khmer statue offers a classic subject for black and white. Rounded modelling helps the subtleties of form and texture.