Capturing the Soul

Gary Hunt
Photographer Dean Treml ponders the power of black & white imagery in cliff diving

The low-lying nearly full moon lit a halo of white around a voluptuous, moisture laden cloud, casting subdued light and long shadows across the rooftops of the Le Marais neighbourhood in Paris's 4th arrondissement. The cat, a black feline with unique white facial markings giving her the appearance of Frida Kahlo, leapt from dormer window to dormer window across the Mansard roof, taking off in absolute silence, and landing two metres later with a dull thud. One such touchdown was registered by the senses of a man in a loft apartment below, but he failed to show any sign of hearing it, and the cat moved on non-the-wiser.

The listener below, a wiry, scraggly haired man, sat topless on a seagrass chair observing himself in an old-world, gilt-edged theatre mirror, of which only two bulbs of the 10 fitted still provided any illumination. His neutral expression was both complemented and contradicted by the vintage leather clown's nose that he wore. After several more minutes in unmoving contemplation, he flicked off the light switch, pushed back the chair and stood slowly, turned and walked deliberately across the large room to sit down at the keys of an old, Bechstein grand piano. He removed the clown nose, placed it to one side and let his fingers rest on the keys.

Now, these two paragraphs could be pages from a book, the script to a play, or an excerpt from a school essay, but as you read it, in your mind's eye, did you visualise it in full colour, black and white, or maybe something in between? For me this plays out like a scene from a movie of the 1930's, and there is no question, it needs to be black & white!

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There is always, I find, an argument for black & white, and equally if not more so, there is one for colour. The advocates for each are generally influenced by their personal preferences. Cliff diving journeys to some incredible and diverse locations that offer great environments for the photography of the sport as well as more personal shots of the divers too, and usually I find myself thinking, "This will look great in b&w..." I wonder what you would think.

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That classic look, evoking the mood and feel of images from many decades ago, is highly appealing. Without the context of time, or the visible style of an era, a photo taken last year could be imagined having come from the 1950's and thereby b&w brings a timelessness to an image. Certainly, swimwear hasn't changed greatly in appearance in the last 60 or 70 years, so with the right surroundings, a picture of a diver could look the same as it would if taken many years ago. But is this necessarily appealing?

It has been said that when you photograph a person in colour, you photograph their clothes, but when you photograph in black and white, you photograph their souls. Well... this sounds a bit fanciful, but it does touch on one of the reasons that I like to use b&w, and that is it strips away distractions and draws you in to the action, the subject, the emotion or the interactions that are happening. There are no bright colours in the corners or background to drag your attention away from what I want you to see. While b&w is actually very abstract, it has been with us for so long that we view it as normal. Colour is often more pleasing to look at, as it does not challenge you as it is how things really are, but b&w conveys emotions and moods so much more.

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The other appreciable thing about b&w, is it allows the assembly of a photo story or reportage that is visually seamless, the b&w gives a consistency and flow regardless of the place and time of the images that would be hard to duplicate with colour.

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Paul Simon wrote that "everything looks worse in black & white," and I get where he's coming from, but it's certainly open for debate.

Dean Treml

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When he discovered the joy of photography, Dean Treml was a mere seven years old. Several years of infuriating his mother, by using up her film, ensued, before he was given his first camera. Aged 14, he bought a 35mm rangefinder, funded by doing menial tasks. He later upgraded to an SLR with 35-70mm lens and all thoughts of being a marine biologist were quickly replaced with photography. Three decades later, he's still shooting with the same enthusiasm as when he was seven. He's ticked the Olympic Games, America's Cup and International Rugby off his to-do list, yet he's still just as happy photographing kids playing football in slums and a skateboarder trying to nail a kickflip. He counts The New York Times, National Geographic, and Sports Illustrated among his publication credits.

Check out more great photos from Dean here - www.instagram.com/deantreml