The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

This week, Anne, author of the site, Slow Shutter Speed is leading the Lens Artists Photo Challenge with the topic, Monochrome. Love it.

For most of my photographic life, I’ve stuck with color photography. Why black and white when you can see life and things as they are. Oh, what a fool I was. A few years back, I started playing with monochrome photography, which is commonly viewed as black and white, but can include different shades of one single color.

My original inspiration was Ansel Adams but I’ve since discovered other monochrome masters such as Alexandre Manuel and Hengki Koentjoro, whose work is absolutely stunning.

Over the past year or so I’ve gone through my archives, selected some images and edited them into monochrome.

While suitable for any subject there are some subjects that almost beg for monochrome.

Time and place
Images of places and things that are from an era before the widespread use of color or, for that matter, photography.

Below, American Civil War cannons gape at an open field at Pea Ridge Battlefield in Arkansas. The preserved Civil War battlefields all look serene and bucolic. To understand the horror that took place on these now peaceful fields, requires putting to work, the imagination and some knowledge of the events of the time.

Civil War Battlefield, Pea Ridge, Arkansas

Below. A simple barn built in the early to mid-twentieth century by Thomas Alma Moulton and his sons is one of the most photographed structures in America. At the crack of a sub 30 degree morning I joined a phalanx of other photographers to capture an image of this historic barn.

Moon over the Moulton Barn, Grand Teton NP. The barn was built in the early 20th century

Below. In 1877, the town of Bodie, California rose near the golden riches of a nearby mine. Like many mining towns, Bodie experienced a meteoric boom before cratering in a bust once the mines were played out. The town is incredibly well preserved.

Old sawmill, Bodie, California

Two years ago, I took my grandson on a nighttime visit to Alcatraz. The island is most infamously known as the site, between 1934 and 1963, of a federal penitentiary. I found that this place is best treated in black and white, both for its stark reputation and as a representation of the era.

The setting sun lights up the walls of D block. The pock marks on the walls are the results of a gun battle that took place during the Battle of Alcatraz when inmates overpowered guards and temporarily occupied parts of the jail in 1946.

Last year, my wife Cora and I visited the concentration camp at Manzanar, in the high desert east of the Sierra Nevada, where Japanese-Americans were imprisoned during World War II. I took the photo below of a basketball court, in the middle of the day. There is nothing colorful about Manzanar. After playing with the image I got the effect of a prison camp at night, lit with flood lights.

I’m drawn to old cemeteries and color never does an old cemetery it’s proper due.

The cemetery on the grounds of Mission Dolores in San Francisco dates back to the early 19th century

The Silver Terrace Cemetery in Virginia City, Nevada is the final resting place for many of the pioneers who journeyed west to strike it rich in the silver mines.
The image below (which has appeared in previous posts) was taken in color at midday. It was drab and lacked any drama. With some editing the photo appears as a cemetery on a full moon night.

On the website Fstoppers I ran into an article about black and white portrait photography. The article begins, “There is an old quote that says, “If you want to shoot fashion, shoot in color, but if you want to shoot emotion, shoot in black and white.” I don’t know who said it, but I tend to agree. I do love myself a good black and white portrait. There is something special about black and white imagery which has the ability to cut through all the baggage and display both the inner beauty and turmoil which can be so easily hidden away by color photography.”

“ … all the baggage…” How true. Whether the subject is people or pets, I think color in a portrait distracts from the story in the face.

The librarian
My most enduring friendship is with Scott. He found his calling and his passion as a librarian. In the months before COVID I wanted to take a photo of him in his environment. This isn’t a library per se, it is part of my own library. Scott and I do agree to disagree on the sport of hockey.

Chloe was my daughter’s dog but also the family’s dog. When a living situation precluded my daughter from keeping Chloe, Chloe stayed with Cora and I. Later when my daughter moved in with the grandchildren, the family was rejoined. Shortly after my daughter got her own house, Chloe passed away. This photo was taken when Chloe was eleven. I think the photo shows the vulnerability and the dignity that comes with age.

Why do I edit in monochrome? Just …

Because clouds make such good subjects.

Clouds over Vallejo CA


Sunset Lake Tahoe

Because the lobby in the Hotel Ottumwa (Iowa) has such a 1940s retro feel about it.

Hotel Ottumwa

Because the Eastern Bakery sign (Chinatown, SF) is so retro 1920s.


25 thoughts on “Monthly Monochrome: Lens Artists Photo Challenge – Monochrome

  1. Anne Sandler says:

    Wonderful post Paul. I’m glad you discovered the richness B&W can add to an image. Your edits are excellent.

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you so much Anne for you kind words and for hosting this challenge.

  2. mistermuse says:


    1. Paul says:

      Thank you Mr. M.

  3. Steve says:

    I love seeing the details in the Alcatraz wall as sun paints the silhouette bars across it. Gives me a bit of an eerie and distant feeling.

    Do you ever go out and intentionally shoot for monochrome?

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you Steve.
      I always shoot in color but there are times when I intentionally visualize the image in monochrome, particularly if I’m in a place like an old cemetery or at a historic site. The same is true now when I photograph faces.

  4. Sheree says:

    Very powerful

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you Sheree.

      1. Sheree says:

        You’re welcome

  5. Toonsarah says:

    A very thoughtful and thought-provoking post. You illustrate perfectly in both images and words why some subjects are so well suited to monochrome. I always especially love your moody shots of historic and run-down places.

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you Sarah. Much appreciated.

  6. eden baylee says:

    Great pictures, Paul. Monochrome, black and white, or whatever you call it, has a quality you can’t find in colour. Like all good art, I think it allows us to fill in the blanks and create our own stories.

    The barn shot is amazing, and wouldn’t have nearly been as interesting in colour. Love the Alcatraz pictures, which I can only envision in B/W. My favourite is: The Silver Terrace Cemetery in Virginia City. There are so many layers of life and death in that shot – the shadows, the dead branches reaching up to the sky, the bushes.
    Chloe’s face is beautiful, and her eyes more expressive than most humans. 🙂


    1. Paul says:

      Hello Eden,
      “I think it allows us to fill in the blanks and create our own stories.” Well said.

      I found that particular barn shot just a few nights ago. Alcatraz was shot with the intention of editing into black and white. The cemetery was a loser in color. The sun was high in the sky and the photo was washed out. Black and white saved it, as it has other shots like the basketball court at Manzanar.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  7. JohnRH says:

    WOW. Great great photos. That banner of the clouds is stunning. I like ’em all. Very well done.

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you so much John. Very much appreciated.

  8. Thank you for so visually (and verbally) articulating your reasons for monochrome – I’ve noticed vaguely that older places ask for black and white (or sepia) and that also applies to faces, especially older faces, which I suppose has to do with mood, or as you say ’emotion’. Now I will have to go check out clouds…

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you so much for the kind words and for visiting.

  9. Chris says:

    So, so beautiful, I almost wept. Crazy good.

    1. Paul says:

      Thanks so much Chris.

  10. Anita says:

    A wonderful post, both when it comes to your photos and writing. Even I was skeptical about black and white and monochrome before; color is the real thing. But as you show with your monochrome images, it evokes moods in a way that color doesn’t always do. My favorites here will be “Sunset Lake Tahoe”, “Chloe”, “Alcatraz” and “Moon over the Moulton Barn”.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Anita, Thank you so much for visiting and for commenting. Your kind words are greatly appreciated.
      Note: Your comment didn’t disappear. First comments are set up to be moderated. After the first, all comments are automatically published.

  11. Leya says:

    Always a treat, your posts, Paul. You make it absolutely clear about what and why is suitable for B&W, and I cannot but agree. Do I have any favourites if i don’t say all of them? I have. They are the barn and Lake Tahoe. But of course I love Chloe, her eyes says it all.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Ann-Christine, Thank you so much. I think your favorites might be mine also.

  12. Fabulous, Paul. Absolute excellence.

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you Martin. Much appreciated.

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