Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Black and White and Science

Up until 1935, when Eastman Kodak Company brought Kodachrome, the first modern colour print to the public, black and white was the main method for capturing photos. This gives black and white photographs a timeless, elegant, nostalgic effect that cannot be replicated in colour. This applies to resizing photos, since a grainy black and white photo will maintain its allure with loss in quality, where a color one will be at disadvantage. However, if shooting in black and white, this also gives the impression that you are recording history, where colour is contemporary and current.

When shooting in colour the eye is primarily drawn to strong colours, distracting away from the subject being photographed. When removing colour in monochrome, the viewer is led to see shapes, lines and form within the image that may not have been obvious with colour. On the other hand, colour adds definition to shape, and picks out minute details that black and white would not have shown. If shooting in darkness, then lighting has increased importance to black and white photography. Since the principal lighting will be coming from flash, or artifical lighting, black and white images can end up looking flat and dull because the interplay of light and shade has been removed, whereas colour will appear to have more depth and shape.
The main argument for colour would be that it shows life as close to realistic as possible, and for a discipline such as scientific biological photography, the main mission is to portray the subject as accurate as possible.

Photography has become an essential component of many areas of science. The science of photography dates back to the 1830s, and by the end of the 19th century, photography was being used as an instrument of observation of events that were otherwise unobservable with the eye, as well as use as a form of measurement. One reason was the arrival of reliable and standardisable photographic emulsions. Its mechanical, reproducible and reliable nature was reason to believe it would function as an artificial retina. With the discovery of X-rays, photography was shown to be an extremely flexible medium, which could be manipulated to show otherwise unseen worlds. For some time however, artistic appropriation and the forgeries made by spiritualists undermined the objectivity of photographs. Since then, it has played a crucial role in the study of anatomy (after US surgeons office compiled a record of Civil War wounds) and provided objective standards for defining visual characteristics of species of animal or rock type.

But photography can also, more and more frequently, be used to depict subjects that the human eye cannot see, such as hour long exposures bringing out astronomical details, or at the other extreme, high speed photos that can show a bullet in flight. Such discoveries as neutrons in 1932 and viruses in 1942 show photos to be invaluable source for science. In addition, non visible spectrum photographs can be taken, such as X-rays taken in hospitals, and UV photographs in astronomy and medicine.

As in the case of von Hippel, some scientists can become so entranced with photographs that they continue to use photos created for experimental purposes as a form of art. For example, the X-ray photographs of atoms and molecules made by Dorothy Hodgkin, which were turned into textile designs for 1951 Festival of Britain.

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