Photographers' Blog

China in color or black and white?

By Carlos Barria

I have heard this question asked a million times: would this picture be better in color, or in black and white? I grew up in the color era, but I do remember seeing television programs in black and white. That was before 1990, when my parents bought a color television to watch Argentina’s national soccer team play in the World Cup in Italy. (We won the Cup in 1986… in black and white.)

I find myself wondering sometimes whether a particular story, or a particular picture, would be stronger or clearer in black and white, or in color. To some degree, the answer is imposed. I work for a media organization that provides clients with color pictures, so I photograph in color.

But sometimes I like to experiment with converting pictures to black and white, just to see how they look. Recently I visited two Communist Party schools in China where trainees attended courses to reaffirm their foundation as Communist Party members. During the trip I went first to Jianggangshan in Jiangxi province, a historical area where former Chinese leader Mao Zedong fought the Nationalists, as a leader of the newly created Red Army. Then I visited a modern school in Pudong, in the cosmopolitan hub of Shanghai.



These were two different scenarios. In the first, mid-level government officials dressed in Red Army uniforms and attended five days of courses where they reviewed communist material, sang red songs and visited historical places — all in a beautiful countryside setting. In the second, there was a more pragmatic focus. Members of the Party dove into economic theory, crisis control, and studied the new challenges that the Party has to face after more that six decades in power.

Both visits produced strong and colorful picture packages, and while one was set in a historical location, both schools were created in 2005 — to reinforce the core principles of the officials who attended. But I took a group of pictures that I thought would be stronger in black and white, so I started editing and trying to see them in groups. I found that the meaning changed.

Fishing with film

By Carlos Barria

In the “old” days, back before digital photography, photographers used to lug around tons of extra luggage, portable dark rooms, and set up shop in their hotel bathrooms. Or they would send their film — by motorcycle, car or even plane — to somebody else in a hotel or office close by to develop it, scan it and file. Or they might have to scramble and look for a lab in the middle of a crisis, in a foreign country. I don’t think my colleague Joe Skipper speaks Spanish, but I know that when he covered a showdown at Colombia’s Justice Ministry in the 80s, he learned how to say, “Mas amarillo!,” “More yellow!

North America chief photographer Gary Hershorn arrives to the Vancouver international airport with all his photo lab luggage. REUTERS/Stringer

I began my career as a photographer at the beginning of the digital era, working at La Nacion in Argentina. There, in 2000, I had a front row seat to the transition. I shot film myself, but for a very short period.

Fashion Week, New York

Models, tall models, skinny models, Russian models, French models…sounds exotic? Yeah, not so much. Covering fashion week in New York sounds like a pretty glamorous assignment but it could hardly be further from it.

Shooting fashion week has more in common with running a marathon than it does running a sprint. There are 8 days, some 75 shows in the tents, dozens more off site, plus preparation photos. We shoot the models backstage and the designers getting ready, we shoot the front row celebrities arriving and we shoot the show from the pit.

The pit could also be called the pit of despair. Imagine taking 200 photographers with all their requisite gear, cameras, laptops, ladders, monopods, boxes and cases, putting them in a space that realistically 50 photographers could work comfortably in. Throw in 14 hour days, little regard for hygiene and an open bar in the evening and you have a recipe for a sociological experiment gone awry.

Remember the days of black and white film?

Do you remember the days of black and white film?
Life before digital and the preview screen?
How about shooting one frame per minute?

I have made several trips with U.S. President George W. Bush to his ranch in Crawford, Texas over the last couple of years.

Crawford is a small, sleepy town, population 705, a place where time has seemed to have passed them by. There are no hotels, one small flashing traffic light, and definitely not a Starbucks to be found.

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