Black and white


Before Christmas I was making an appointment and on that occasion I was speaking with an assistant over the phone, with a woman I had not known. Her voice was pleasant and friendly and when I was to meet her finally, I was looking forward to that meeting. But expectations are deceiving troublemakers so when I actually saw her, I could not believe it was the same person. I did not like her appearance and felt disappointed. After exchanging the words we needed to say I got back to my car and went home. While driving, it began to dawn on me that my what-I-felt-at-first-sight perception was quite silly. She WAS the same person but I needed to abandon my black and white seeing to like her again.

Do you tend to see in black and white or are you a natural for perceiving all the shadows in between? My husband used to tell me that I was viewing just the extreme values on any scale. Things were either good or bad, moral or immoral, beautiful or ugly, perfect or terrible, acceptable or unacceptable. No exception granted. I still struggle but I have been learning to appreciate the countless shades and their possible meaning and profoundness.

Yesterday I read an article on photography and its author was describing there that he sometimes assigns the following task to his students: If you come to a place you want to shoot or see such a thing, do not content yourself with an obvious capture however perfect it might seem. Try to be creative and take ten photos of the place or thing. Try different angles, details, views. You will see that there is not just the obvious capture, there is much more. Yes, that may not be easy, it may hurt to make that effort. But the results will speak for themselves.

I found out that the same applies to the black and white seeing. If I do not content myself with what I see at first sight and try different angles, details and views, I always discover the shades. Always, though it may hurt. But the shades then speak for themselves.



  1. Soosie

    I see shades of grey – except in myself. I judge my actions as black or white (and mostly black). I know it is wrong, and I struggle with it. Brilliant, thought provoking post and a glorious image. Thank you.

  2. Marcie

    What we think/perceive and what we actually see can sometimes be such different things. I think it's a life's practice to learn to expect and accept everything in 1000 shades of endless greys. Not easy work….as you've so beautifully illustrated in both word and image. A wonderful thought-provoking post!

  3. LaTonya

    Glad to hear about you efforts. Most of the time, I grey kinda guy. It isn't easy and I'm not special for my perception. I think it has more to do with my own need to be seen and accepted.

  4. Elena Caravela

    To recognize something in ourselves that we want to change or fine tune is difficult at best. You are also able to articulate what it is you wish to learn. I'd say that's already an accomplishment. I think your image illustrates that you are well on your way.

  5. Honey

    what a brilliant and Honest posting. you ask if i ever judge….of course, i do but far less than i ever did. do i try not to? absolutely.
    i am not certain when my judges robe went into the trash, but i think it happened naturally from loss and getting older…and most of all…being comfortable with who i am.
    thanks for getting my day off to a solid start.

  6. Jennifer Richardson

    beautiful analogy, friend.
    I sometimes think I love photography because
    it teaches me to see…..just exactly what you're writing about.
    Maybe it coaches us to see from the heart,
    which is much more expansive and roomy.
    Thanks for this interesting stir….I'm always richer
    after I leave here:)

  7. Ginnie

    My mind has just raced off into a hundred different directions after reading this, Petra…besides the obvious 50 shades of grey and the number of different words Eskimos supposedly have for snow. Are black and white even colors? HA! Seriously, I love that you've raised this whole issue of how we see or respond to people and experiences around us. We're probably all at different places on the scale of Black and White but my guess is that each one of us is widening our span of color the longer we live. And that brings a big smile to me.

  8. Kelly

    This is a conversation my husband and I have often… he tends to see everything in black and white, and I am always telling him that we live in a grey, grey world.
    What you describe is the same thing that happens when we read a book that is then made into a movie, and we can be surprised or disappointed to discover what a character "looks" like… and this is one of the reasons that I don't always jump to see a movie made from a book I've particularly loved.
    We build visions in our head online, on the phone… and the reality is often quite different. I guess all we can do is, as you describe, stay open…explore all the angles. Beauty is always there somewhere, if we look hard enough.
    What a fabulously thought-provoking post!

  9. Juli

    Petra! I love how you see something, and then stand back and take a second look. Many would have left that appointment and never given the meeting another thought. But, you wonder about it, and ask why. And, work to figure things out. You are such an explorer. A discover-er! And, I love that. I am somewhere in the middle when it comes to all of this..I like the grey areas..I think that's where I live a lot of the time, but I've been known to get caught in the 'black and white' of things, too. Sometimes it's just so hard to step out of our own 'line-of-sight' and find an alternate view. Thank you for reminding me to always keep looking for that fresh perspective!

  10. Donna@Gardens Eye View

    Petra I think before I started photographing my garden and nature that I was lost in the black and white. I still find myself so in some extreme views of those stark colors. Recently I have gentled my vision to see those shades of gray and that is reflecting in my photographs as I play more with the black and white and notice so much more to my view on the world and especially people.

  11. Gotham Girl Aka Robin

    Interesting post and great comments! Honey's comments sums it up for me – "i am not certain when my judges robe went into the trash, but i think it happened naturally from loss and getting older…and most of all…being comfortable with who i am."

  12. Carola

    Sometimes I see only black and white and sometimes I am able to see more shades. I know that I should make an effort to see the shades, but there are times or circumstances where I just don't want to. Silly, I know.
    Like Soosie, I tend to see black and white mainly when it concerns me…

  13. Susie@Life-Change-Compost

    Really careful and fine thinking Petra, I love the description of the process you had to arrive at this post. I have struggled with either/or thinking too and seen it's very real limitations. Maybe this is one of the gifts of aging…not only tossing the judges' robe in the trash (great image), but the deep abiding belief that everybody is doing the very best they can. We all work so hard at life and damn…it is not easy. Not easy to be real, to be kind, to be accepting, to fully own all our own weaknesses. I think part of what you may be describing is compassion. Compassion for yourself, which leads to compassion for others. Isn't it interesting that all the major world religions have some version of this commandment: Do unto others….
    I did a study on this one time. Every religion used the concept, just had a slightly different terminology for the same idea. That speaks volumes about how hard it is to do.
    On a lighter note, each year my husband of 36 years and I pick a simple word that is our word for the year related to our marriage and how we treat each other. Some years the word is the same! And often it revolves around the same idea: giving each other a lot of kindness and room to be ourselves without judgement. This year it's "SLACK"….as in cut me some…..(we'll smile and say that word to each other and we both get it!)

  14. Catherine

    SO thought provoking Petra. I guess I am always caught in seeing a number of sides to every story. In a way I feel too much so. I need to learn to come down more clearly on some side!! So I go between the endless shades of grey…….but in photography give me full and glorious colour any time!!

  15. Deborah

    I appreciate how you tied this all together in photography, this seeing in black and white, what it means on different levels. It is hard to overcome conceptions we have in our minds, to really let go of those and truly see. A constant struggle, and yet an opportunity to grow.
    Your image is wonderful!

  16. Roy Norris

    Things are often 'Grey' Petra, (I'm not talking about 50 Shades either.) {:))
    Things are often made grey because how they try to interpret,change, twist or even soften or harden something.
    Surely things have to be black or white to be correct.

  17. Linda

    Hi, Petra. Really a great post today. I'm a gray kind of gal (and not just my hair), married to a black-and-white kind of guy. It makes for interesting discussions sometimes. I'm reminded of a time I went into a used-book store. A long-haired young man, dressed very casually, and with tattoos all over, approached me and asked if he could help me find something. My first thought was that this guy had probably never even READ a book. But, when I mentioned a couple of books that I was interested in, he knew whether they were in stock and, if so, where to locate them among the thousands of books in the store. And he didn't just TELL me where they were…he got them for me himself. You'd have to see this old bookstore in person to realize what an accomplishment that is. I was very ashamed of how I felt when I first saw him.

  18. Zena (Healingmoments)

    I have also struggle against this, because I am also prone to this kind of polarized thinking, instead of focusing on shades and nuances. But -as you- I am learning to do it, I am learning to be more flexible because even when I can be empathic I can´t help being rigid in my viewpoint and opinions. And I am working in appreciating what is unexpected,what is not inside the iusual standards and in letting go my preconceived ideas about how things should be or should be defined… my practice through photography has helped me a lot regarding those issues.
    I can understand what that teacher tries, once I understood that this stereotyped thinking can be hurtful I try to make my students to understand it because when we think outside the box we find out that world and life are much more interesting -and pleasant- places than we thought.

  19. Sarah Laurence

    Excellent post, Petra, and good advice from the photography teacher! I adore your black and white photo. In high school and college I did black and white photography for art and newspapers. I had a darkroom set up in my parents' basement. I like how it gets you to see the world differently. There's actually more gray than black or white in most images. I tend to see the world and its people in shades as opposed to extremes. I sometimes don't notice really obvious details like national accent or race. I wonder, now, if that's my artistic training?

  20. CherryPie

    I am usually quite good at get to the heart of a person. For some reason I am able to see beyond their appearance.
    But there are the odd occasions when I find that difficult and I have work hard to find the inner person.

  21. Maery Rose

    I used to be a very black and white thinker. Things became much less clear when I had a gay son and other events in my life occurred that shook up long established beliefs. I still can get caught up in jumping to conclusions about people based on their political party or the church they belong to but at least I'm now aware of this tendency and can stop and take a second look to see the whole person.

  22. Kate

    "I found out that the same applies to the black and white seeing. If I do not content myself with what I see at first sight and try different angles, details and views, I always discover the shades. Always, though it may hurt. But the shades then speak for themselves."
    so very well said. we focus our lenses ( whether our eyes and ears and mind and/ or our camera lens via our eyes, ears, mind) and see what we focus on, changing focus changes the view ( and the comprehension of what it is we are seeing). I LOve this post and especially the part above ( quoted).

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