So, IS black & white photography on its way out? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

This was recently posted on the newsgroup. It met with very enthusiastic response there, so with the author's permission, I would like to repost it to the forum here.

From what I've read here recently, it seems that a lot of photographic companies have drastically reduced their commitment to black & white products. Most photography is done in color, and black & white has survived mainly as an art medium. It looks like black & white photography as it exists right now might disappear altogether as companies decide that it is no longer cost-efficient to produce products for black & white photographers.

I would like to start a discussion about this topic to find out what other people's take on this issue is. Do you think that black & white photography is going to disappear? If so, why, and if not, why not? If it does disappear, what will be the alternatives for people who still want to shoot in black & white?

-- Scott Daniel Ullman


(Remove "i_hate_spam" and change "ude" to "edu" to send e-mail.)

-- Erik Asgeirsson (, January 15, 2001


Erik: I shoot color, so I am not emotionally tied to the issue.

I suspect the answer depends, in large measure, on how much photographers are willing to pay for B&W materials. As demand shrinks, companies look to the bottom line. They can discontinue products, or raise prices.

I suspect Kodak will be under pressure to reduce their product line. They always seem willing to kill products... remember dye transfer materials?

Overall, expect less selection and higher prices for the forseeable future. B&W materials are easier to produce than color, so you might see smaller companies expanding into the niche if prices are high enough for them to be profitable.

Depending on the march of digital technology, traditional color films and papers may not be far behind B&W, however, I would be surprised if there were no B&W materials available a decade from now... two decades is a different story.

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (, January 15, 2001.

I thought they were already gone.

-- Bill Mitchell (,), January 15, 2001.

B&W will never go away, even in its current form, ever. Even if demand drops and manufacturers cut back, or even eliminate their B&W product lines, there will always be other companies to pick up where they left off and fulfill the needs of photographers. There are many photographers who, like myself, love B&W and every step of the process from loading the film to mounting the print. There are also artists, teachers, photojournalists, etc. who would want to keep B&W alive. There ist still a very strong market for B&W products and I don't see that market changing appreciably in the forseeable future. Sure, some people will switch over to digital, but there are plenty others for whom digital isn't even an option, either due to financial reasons or, like me, would just rather work with traditional materials.

A lot of people see digital photography as being something to replace both B&W and color film photography. Is digital going to bewhere it's at in ten years? Will the world's left over supply of film be used to pave roads and put at the bottom of gerbil cages? Not likely. The way I see it, digital isn't so much a replacement for film-based processes as it is a supplement to them. Early in the twentieth century when color processes were becoming available, people predicted that within x number of years, B&W would be dead. Who in their right minds would continue to shoot B&W when color was just as readily available? Quite a few people, as it turns out. As we know quite well by now, color wasn't a replacement for B&W, just another option. And that's exactly what I see digital as being- just another option.

So no, B&W photography will not disappear. Certain things, like the availability of certain products, might change, but I really can't see B&W photography as a whole losing much strength for a heck of a long time. Not if I have anything to do with it, anyway. That's my $.02 for the day....

-- Dave Munson (, January 15, 2001.

Agree with Dave. The people that are screaming the end of B&W are the same bunch that were screaming the world was going to end Jan. 1, 2000.

-- Don Sparks (, January 15, 2001.

Companies like Kentmere ( are producing more b/w papers then ever before. So the future is still bright for us silver printers. Regards,

-- Trevor Crone (, January 15, 2001.

As long as the medium is used with talent and sensitivity and vision, there will be a demand for it. bw

-- Bruce Wehman (, January 15, 2001.

I went for a "social" dinner with a number of photographers and dealers, and a dealer was telling me that they had never sold as much fiber based black and white paper as they do now. I have been teaching large format photography and in particular portrait for 7 years and as surprising as it might sound the interest is growing rather than going down. All this happens in Holland, but I know that in England things are similar if not better, so guys and gals what are we talking about?

-- Andrea Milano (, January 15, 2001.

I wish I was as positive as others here that feel B&W will be around for a long time to come. I think that it will be relegated to only the "fine art" group of people.

As a member of the Palm Beach Photographic Centre's Board of Directors, I can tell you that out darkroom workshops are barely hanging on. Our digital workshops on the other hand are booming and are booked up pretty quickly. Perhaps people are eager to learn the new technology, perhaps digital has a mystique that interests people. I don't know, but certainly hope that b+W is around for many many more years.


-- Michael J. Kravit (, January 15, 2001.

I doubt B&W will die. Color dyes seem essentially unstable, though improving. There's always a market for permanent, and so far in photography, that seems limited to B&W.

By the way, litho B&W will likely never die as long as things are printed, including circuit boards for electronics. There's just no sense in using 3 layers when 1 will suffice (and actually perform better).

I sense that Ilford is also committed to B&W.

-- Charlie Strack (, January 15, 2001.

I have been fortunate to work with Kodak as an engineering and business consultant and we have talked at length over drinks and dinners about product lines and the "future". While the sun does not rise or set with Kodak as per this particular subject of discussion, as one reference point I can tell you that Kodak has every intention in recovering the investment from the very successful and popular T- Max line as long as possible (with the expeption of the 5x7 line that is going to be offered as a special order product). But that fact alone will not make a hill of beans about what decisions are made down the road. What will matter, IMHO, will be what you see in the fashion magazines or on the walls of the corporations and galleries. Scanning the magazine racks at the large book stores the last few years has made me feel very good about the future of B&W. Most things we enjoy in this world have some economic hinge affixed to it. Profitability makes the wheels turn and photography is not immune from the grip of these forces. Color, as well as digital, makes a niche for itself be being attracted to a select mindset of consumer. The latest rage of digital will no doubt continue to progress in a very positive direction as processing speeds, memory, disk capacities and printer technologies advance at light speed. However, I look upon digital as a tool that I can elect to take out of or leave in the toolbox not as the evil vixen that at times it is made out to be. Some of the marketing data I have seen on digital seems to point to an incremental revenue stream for a consumer that otherwise may have been a roll of film a year user with conventional films. To those of you that have a calling to teach photography, all of us owe you a sincere thank you. It is partly from an introduction to the art form that new consumers of the entire photographic spectrum will find a reason to allow us to enjoy the product lines we have currently in front of us. I am disappointed that 5x7 is being squeezed, but we will persevere in finding the distributor that will have less overhead and the balls to step out and offer what the larger corporations are not willing to. These entrepreneurial individuals in the future that posture themselves to offer us the products and services we desire, we need to identify and patronize in a big way. In the short term, stay enthused about large format, B&W and photography and take some time to share this with others that express an interest. It will benefit us all.

-- Michael Kadillak (, January 15, 2001.

There are more high quality new parts for Model "A" Fords now than there were in 1950.

-- Jim Galli (, January 16, 2001.

After spending the past 5 hours in the darkroom and winding up with 4 lovely, glowing, palladium prints my heart is filled with passion and a sense of accomplishment. To think that we may lose this would be a travesty.

I for one can only hope that we will never be so bold as to think that digital imaging can replace an art as lovely ad B&W.

-- Michael J. Kravit (, January 16, 2001.

Digital Has it`s place (e-mailing a print for approval), but it cannot and will not replace silver prints for their graacious beauty ever. ?Have you ever eally seen a quality print by Ansel Adams or others close handd??? Absolutely gorgeous..B&W is not dead by a long shot........:-)

-- Gary Ross (, January 16, 2001.

B&W die? Never. Sure corporations may drop product lines, and films may cease to be available, but as long as we keep shooting it will never disappear - even if I end up painting home-brewed emulsions on plastic sheets!

-- Matt O. (, January 17, 2001.

I see B&W having a strong resurgence right now; The big thing being B&W portaits. I also see more than one B&W magazine on the newsstands. And although it is a C41 process, TCN and XP2 are good sellers. Remember that alot of real B&W paper is sold for printing this stuff. I also recently have seen a digital camera that shoots in B&W mode as well as color, and and seeing much larger foramts being looked at again. If anyone ever starts to produce a film in 12" wide rolls for self cutting with a devised propriety system, B&W as well as extreme LF cameras will take off. Dying? No.

-- Wayne Crider (, January 18, 2001.

Of course B&W is on its way out. So is color film and digital, you, me, the earth, and everything else that exists. So the point is not to worry about what is inevitable. Enjoy it while it is here.


-- Jason (, January 18, 2001.

I think that A.A. really put his finger on it when he commented that he could think of many photographs of great consequence (I'm paraphrasing) that were printed in black and white, but that he could think of none that were printed in color. (Even though, he took some excellent color photographs.)

I think that the fundamental way in which black and white can convey the essence of an image is here to stay.

-- neil poulsen (, January 19, 2001.

In Erik's original post, I took the phrase "as it exists right now" to be the operative question.

Many of the replies here remind me of comments that my audiophile friends were making when CDs were released in the early 1980's. LPs and Shure V15-TypeIV cartidges would always be available because there would always be a demand for them. Well, new LPs are scarce, but Shure still makes a V15 (at least they did a year ago).

Well, desire doesn't equal demand. Economic demand requires not only desire, but enough people who are willing to spend enough money to make an enterprise profitable. There is clearly enough demand for V15s but not for vinyl recordings.

The end of the LP wasn't stopped by a small number of audiophiles who proclaimed the better audio quality of analog recordings. But fine music didn't disappear either. The end still lives, but the technological means to the end, changed.

I would certainly argue that B&W photography will continue to thrive. But that doesn't mean it will thrive "as it exists right now". Fiber base high-silver papers have no equals right now. But images from high resolution digital sensors printed on those papers MAY come to equal or exceed the results from traditional film. And inkjet or other printers that produce equal or better results MAY be designed.

So enjoy your B&W films and papers. They will probably outlive you and they may continue to be the best means to the end, fine B&W images. They will become more limited and expensive, but there may be enough TRUE DEMAND to keep some in production for decades, particularly since they can be manufactured on a small economic scale.

But don't ignore the possibility that the technological advances, paid for by the masses yearning for 4x6 inch color prints of office parties and proms, may ultimatly lead to better means of B&W photography than what "exists right now".

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (, January 19, 2001.

In my opinion, silver-based, chemically processed imagery is on the way out and will be replaced by digital imagery. It's happening right now. Someday the traditional black and white processes will be considered "alternative processes" limited to the fine art market As a long time black and white photographer working in all formats up to 8 x 10, I hate to see this. Yes, the films and papers available today are excellent. But their future availability depends entirely on market forces, and I suspect the overall market for these materials is diminishing. How many films are available in 5 x 7 and how many of those films do you think there will be in 5 years? How long do you think it will be before Kodak discontinues Verichrome Pan, my favorite 120 film? Do you really think that the fine art market alone can sustain the profitability of these and other black and white products? Just look at how Kodak's stock has performed over the last few years. I am familiar with one major workshop program, and I know that in the last few years many of their photo workshops have had to be cancelled for lack of people signing up. I don't think they've had the same problem with their digital program. So this is probably what we have to look forward to.

-- John Boeckeler (, January 20, 2001.

Not only am I a photographer, I am also a purchaser of fine art prints made by others. I don't display disks on my wall, nor monitors, nor drives, nor any of that stuff. I display Black and White silver based prints. Quite frankly, I don't care what they are made of so long as the quality is as good as silver based prints, and I have yet to see anything equal that quality (in my very humble opinion). When I go to Museums of Art to look at their photographic displays, they are almost always all black and white silver based. When you look at what sells in the fine art world (auctions) it is black and white. Long live silver based black and white !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Kevin

-- Kevin Kolosky (, January 20, 2001.

Glen Kroger's reference to the fate of the LP in the face of digital technology makes a good case for the continued availability of B&W materials. Nearly 20 years ago the major record manufacturers announced that CDs were "perfect sound forever" and they pushed the market hard toward the CD even ahead of consumer demand. (Manufactures of cameras and materials have been nowhere near as aggressive about forcing consumers to digital photography.) In the vacuum left by the major manufacturers' neglect, there has sprung up a thriving, although niche, market for LPs and LP playback equipment. In fact, years after the LP was declared dead, small audiophile manufacturers continue to design ever more expensive turntables and cartridges and small record companies continue to turn out LPs of old and new music. I expect that if major manufacturers abandon the B&W market the same thing will happen in photography.

Another example that should encourage optimism is the recent flowering of interest in alternative photography which has made readily available some processes that were virtually dead for half a century.

B&W may become even more of a niche market than it is now, but I am confident it will be around for a very long time.

-- Chris Patti (, January 20, 2001.

Hi Erik

I see for the next 30 years no troubles for B/W but for a longer look forward I don`t know! There is a totaly fantastic new B/W Film Comp. in Germany with a new B/ W Film with a resolution of 900 p. lines per mm. I`m not working for this company. You should have a look on thad homepage at: It will change your work in B/W!

-- Armin Seeholzer (, January 22, 2001.

Kodak has already killed High Speed Infrared due to lack of interest.

-- Bruce Gavin (, January 22, 2001.

To Me Black And White Will Allways Make Me Stair , In Wonder At The Beauty Of A Large Print. It To Me Is Like An Artists Painting No Color Involved Just The Shades And Contrasts. Involving Features Just Seem To Draw You In To The Subject, Simple Yet Complex. Will Black And White Die? Only If We Let It, And We Allow It To.

-- Peter Lucchini (, January 10, 2002.

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