Saturday, 3 September 2016


There’s been an amusing face book exchange that revolved around the statement “I say Pitch Black and what do you say?” or something along those lines. Aside from a couple of misguided racially motivated sideswipes the responses have been short, sharp and amusing. I weighed in with a limp-wristed “Grey scale?” The response was “So WRONG!”, and my guarded reply was “I was merely referring to printer technology!”

But it got me thinking about “Black & White” and “Grey Scale” as analogies. Dangerous ground I know, leading as it may to the slippery slope of triteness and simplicity – let alone fuelling the toxic debates about “colour” that are playing out in so many public media spaces at the moment. But throwing caution to the hurricane winds of social memes  . . . .

Look at a photograph of a landscape that is rendered in “black and white”. The foreground is pitch black and merely frames what is behind. The hinterland retreats with perhaps four discernible grades of less blackness into a grim and flat backdrop. The road in the middle distance looks like an ancient scar. 

Compare that with the same scene rendered in a grey scale.

Now, the framing is evidently a fascinating combination of rock and vegetation of complimentary differing textures and permanence. The immediate foreground leads the eye tantalizingly through a more open ground middle vista to the more distance undulations. The picture is now nuanced and is imbued with depth, recession, place and meaning, and vitally – imagination!

The same exercise can be done with a human landscape. 

In this photograph the black and white rendering is striking because of the predominant white shirts which give some indication of body shapes and stances. There is some feel of grouping, of social interaction, but it is vague and flat.

Re-render this in grey scale and now the degree of interaction becomes evident. 

The nuances are not of distance and texture, but are of closeness and harmony. There is a dynamic that speaks of connection and common purpose (or achievement) that is not evident in the black and white rendering. The delight in and of this tableau is evident.

So there you have it.

Observations, statements, thoughts, angry outbursts, and emotional outpourings rendered at flat, binary dimensional black and white scale become sarcasm, vituperative, divisive, and hateful stigma. They cannot compare with a grey-scale rendering which will provide a nuanced view. Apply the essence of grey-scale sensitivity and get the sense of depth, of texture, and the potential for harmonies.

So much of what we read and see carries the bigoted mark of a black and white scale. So much of what we read and see could be more palatable and frankly useful if it were tempered with a grey-scale outlook. Look at these two photographs as an illustration of this analogy.

And photographs in colour?

Well observations and views at that level would represent true enlightenment!


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