Authentic, urgent, true – that’s the message of mono

It won’t have escaped your notice – more and more businesses, brands and institutions are using black & white photography to help get their messages across. We’re with them (and you) all the way on this one. Our recent work for Climate-KIC’s award-winning Climathon programme, which features monochrome imagery across a range of platforms from social media to printed materials, is a case in point. Why the upsurge in mono? Black & white is rooted in the past, isn’t it? Black & white is yesterday’s news, right? Wrong. The truth is black & white has never been out of fashion, and with good reason. Timeless, enduring, authentic, believable, authoritative, honest, urgent and true, black & white sends out powerful messages that make it ideal for campaigns with real social value – campaigns like Climathon.

Launched in 2015, Climathon is a 24-hour-only global hackathon-style event that brings people together on campuses, in offices and elsewhere to develop innovative responses to city-level climate impacts within their own community space. Inclusive and empowering, the campaign demonstrates that individuals working together can help define solutions. With more and more municipal leaders switching on to the democratic value of inviting their own citizens to confront and overcome local climate challenges, Climathon 2016 is looking to double last year’s global tally of 19 participating cities. Already this year the initiative has picked up a Guardian Business Sustainability Award. Authentic, urgent, true? That’s the message, and magic, of mono.

From the archive – is quality ever a black & white issue?

Back in 1989 we worked with Vauxhall Motors to produce Traffic, a monthly journal designed to keep the manufacturer’s UK dealership network abreast of all the latest company and industry developments. Central to the brief was the idea of bringing glossy magazine production values to bear on a newspaper format, conferring the maximum possible quality, authority and integrity on newsy prerequisites like currency, topicality and readability. When it came to photography, there was just one candidate. Only black & white need apply for the job. There was a snag, however. Not even the magic of monochrome could stop Traffic ending up on the hard shoulder.

Traffic, the Vauxhall-Bedford dealer monthly, launched to good reviews, finding initial favour with its target audience in showrooms and on forecourts up and down the land. With a useful budget and a team of experienced journalists and photographers at hand, the journal quickly established a reputation for quality reportage. But all was not as it seemed. In qualitative market research the publication received a resounding thumbs down after its first year in print. Viewed increasingly as a vehicle (pun intended) of management with a ‘top-down’ style to match, Traffic closed after just twelve good-looking issues, leaving behind it important lessons for us all as communicators.

Things we bbelieve in #2 – old process, renewed respect

Black & white photography is trending. And it’s not just the visual characteristics of monochrome (available from moment to moment at the touch of a smartphone button) that are capturing the imagination. Enthusiasts and professionals alike are choosing to run black & white film through their cameras. More and more colleges and schools are inviting students to get their fingers wet with developer, stop bath and fix. We’re not surprised. Call it a respect for process, or a yearning for craft in the age of instant gratification. We asked Niall Connolly, large-format black & white photography specialist whose work we show here, to describe his method and outlook.

Says Niall: ‘Black & white pares the image back to its component parts. Absence of colour makes a photograph more factual than entertaining, more documentary than fiction, while a large-format analogue camera demands a far more contemplative approach. These cameras require a tripod, which means choosing your viewpoint with more deliberation. For me, using analogue techniques for both film and print, as opposed to a digital workflow, is a personal decision driven at heart by my empathy with a process that is slower and more measured. It’s a way of working that allows me to become more deeply involved with my subject.’ Selfies on the beach, anyone?