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  • Writer's picturePradip Chakraborty

PORTRAITURE in BLACK-AND-WHITE


The Brooding Eyes


In the classic film Casablanca, Captain Renault describes the intriguing nightclub owner Rick in these words, "Oh, he's just like any other, only more so." One could also say that black-and-white composition is like any other composition in colour- only more so. Since colour is not present to entertain, beguile, and misdirect the eye, formal composition becomes more important. A black-and-white photograph shows the full spectrum world of colour monotonically. By stripping the colour from a scene, the photograph adds mystery and ambiguity.

"Character is destiny," wrote Greek philosopher Heraclitus back in the fifth century BC. And what better way to see character than to observe the lines of someone's face? In the absence of colour, there are only shapes, lines, patterns and forms in B&W images. Portraits created using B&W can show characters at a deeper level than those in which the structural issues are masked by colour.

For these reasons, B&W portraits can stick in our memory and stay with us as powerful statements of character. It's just that more often B&W seems to tell the truth, and capture and present the underlying character and predominant mood of its subject.


The Brothers


In this photograph, there is a compelling tale of two brothers, their camaraderie, their impish pranks on one another, and despite a dozen of feisty fights, their proclivity to stand by each other and walk hand in hand, that promising tale of unconditional trust and love- my sole intention was to create a frame that would sing that unheard song of the perpetually tight-knit bonding of the two brothers, where their faces play a pivotal role in pronouncing their unending jubilation in each other's company. As I convert the original coloured photograph into B&W, the real essence of their story instantaneously came to the fore in full glory. The right thing gets rightly accentuated and above all, the gamut of playful emotions well-written on their faces and those pairs of twinkling eyes haven't lost path in the busyness of chromatic world and have exactly been underlined the way it should have been.



Dolce far niente (sweet idleness)


The langour lingering at the tip of her pencil pretty much explains it all. It may be a dainty reflection of her weariness seeking a few moments of pleasant idleness, or it may also be redolent of the inevitable bouts of inertia, that I like to define as a defence mechanism of our mind to keep itself on an even keel. The defining moment of torpor grabbed in this frame unfailingly marks the achromic simplicity since torpor can be best expressed in B&W, the midtone gray is ideal for balancing the depth of the emotions captured.


Joie de Vivre with wiggling tooth


The felicity and cheerfulness of children knows no bounds especially when they are around their friends in the school during recess. They get superlatively elated at the prospect of making noises, hustling and bustling, devoutly performing their monkeyshines, thus creating and recreating numerous classroom drama every single day. This shot was taken amidst one of those hubbubs of laughter and shouting. The girl in the frame was trying to wiggle her loose tooth. For a moment, let us just think about all those impossible things that only children can attempt to do so spontaneously and it may seem to be strange now but we also did all those crazy things in our childhood, but once we grow up, in our judicious attempt of coming across as being sane and politically correct, we find these monkey tricks to be silly and idiotic. My keen interest was to capture exactly that underlying quality of those acts- the unadulterated naivete.


When The Eyes Talk


Infancy-a time to get easily chuffed, frightened, baffled, surprised, muddled. Children literally can jump from one state of mind to the other like an arrow from a bow. The nucleus of this shot is the big rounded eyes talking to my lens about how baffled and amazed they are at the same time. This B&W rendition with low-key lighting accurately encapsulates the distinct language of those innocent eyes.

Profile Portrait of The Workman


The contrast between the man and the wall against which he'd been supporting his back helps to make this an interesting portrait. In general terms, a profile portrait is an idealising object, not a memento of an individual personality, but a display sign of family honour. But what I recorded in this frame has nothing to do with prestige or dignity, rather it's strongly suggestive of weariness, debility, fatigue and exhaustion. That's where the image is radically different. The low-key interpretation of the shot underscores those intangible facets of the workman's mien.


Hold on, I have something to say!


As a photographer, I often ask myself, how on earth would I get to expand the whole spectrum of possible actions that may ensue from the specific mood recorded in a still frame? A frame once grabbed doesn't cease so easily, but hems the viewers in completely, engrosses them, enthrals them with its multitudinous probabilities. And a classic B&W approach may dramatically augment its acceptability into one's imagination. A B&W composition has the potential to replay the real moment captured in a photograph and rip a hole in the space-time continuum.


It is the widely held belief that a good portrait is generally a well-lit depiction of smiling young and dynamic faces. However, that is often superficial because the artistic depiction of a person should be more than just good compositional lighting. I have always tried to maintain the little "slice" of truth in all my works, by means of not letting even one wrinkle go uncaptured while photographing people.

I believe, every person has an individual personality, spiritual beliefs, personal anecdotes and holds a close relationship with his/her surroundings, which undoubtedly leave their mark. A good portrait should attempt to show their individual traits as well as factors from their surroundings that have influenced them. B&W portraits, in particular, have a sense of realism and legitimacy that is sometimes lacking in colour counterparts. They cut through the distraction of colour and reveal the true essence of the subject with gravitas and authenticity. Colour is descriptive and sometimes deceptive, but Black-and-White is interpretive. Moreover, let's not forget what Ted Grant asseverated once, "When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls!”


The Morsel Between Her Palms

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