Why Go Black & White? feat. Marmozets @ Saint Lukes, Glasgow
Black and white photography is classic. An art form which perfectly balances simplicity with depth. Black and white photography is timeless. It doesn’t age disgracefully like fashionable colour grades and unimaginative film filters. Black and white photography...is wonderful.
When it comes to music photography, black and white can somehow elevate the shots to another place. Stripping the distracting colours out of a live photo manages to highlight the passion that makes the best live music so compelling and infectious in the first place.
Not all bands benefit from this though. Often times black and white gig photography isn’t about trying to capture those moments, it's a quick fix for poor lighting conditions, a trick I used to use endlessly when I first picked up a camera. Not all shows are the kind of shows, and not all bands are the kind of bands, that work in black and white.
Marmozets are a band who do work in black and white. Honestly, the band aren’t as original as a lot of the press might want you to believe, but they are an incredibly talented, passionate and sincere band. They’re overflowing with character, quirky arrangements and instantaneous songs. That question of originality aside, there’s a reason this band are touted as leaders of the current wave of incredible rock bands in the UK right now.
I was privileged enough to photograph Marmozets on their last run of UK shows when they tore the beautiful converted church that is Saint Lukes a new one. It felt like one of those shows that should be in black and white. Here are a few choice images from the show in colour and black and white to illustrate what I’m talking about. After all, how could the internet posssibly be expected to continue without me explaining my process?
Though every member of Marmozets is overflowing with character, that sort of thing isn't always easy to capture on camera. The cold, limited blues and purple that lit the stage that night didn't quite convey that. But turned to black and white, the shadows bring a new depth to the scene, the slightly overblown highlights create striking silhouettes and enhance the sense of scale of the church behind the band.
I love this shot. I'm a big fan of using prime lenses to capture multiple band members in dynamic positions enhanced by bokeh. This image is full of passion and movement. It should exude energy but the reds and purples are moodier than that, freezing the moment and robbing the intensity from the photo. But, the black and white image benfits from the deep shadows, strong contrast and over blown highlights forcing the image more into your face.
Much like the previous image, this again ups the intensity when turned black and white. I like the colours, the desaturated pinks and purples are aesthetically pleasing and soothing, but this performance wasn't soothing. It was a breakneck, frantic show and the photographs should convey that. With all those soothing colours pulled out, the image is suddenly much more aggressive.
This another example of the black and white adding to the sense of scale in an image. As much as I enjoy the contrasting harsh colours in the other version, there's a much stronger sense of occasion in the black and white version. Something that a band like Marmozets, in a venue like this, demands.
Black and white portraits are often a winner. For these kinds of tighter shots, it brings a richer sense of atmosphere. Pushing the background out of focus and minimising the distractions means that the shadows on a subject's face draw you into details you didn't realise were there before or forces you to strain for ones that are hidden. The stark nature of the monochrome image drawing out the emotion in a way duller colours can't.
This final shot is another photograph where I feel the silhouettes benefit from the black and white. Let's also assume I said something about shadows as well because I've noticed that's become something of a running theme here. The rich contrast and strong blacks really help accentuate the band and draw you into the details of the photograph that the colour just washes over.
Now, I try to resist black and white as much as I can. I want to push how I shoot and edit and knowing I don’t intend to rely on the crutch of black and white forces me to focus on my exposures and editing. I want to be able to take the kind of iconic pictures people remember for years to come, and document bands people will never forget. Those sort of shows, are the perfect time and place for black and white.
Marmozets have a new record out this Friday. You should pick it up. It's probably going to be pretty great.