In a Monochrome World

Sometimes, no matter how young or old we are, no matter how little we have to trouble or vex us, we suffer from weariness. Our feelings go flat. Everything is just too much. We’re not tired exactly; we’re not bored; but there is a lassitude we can’t magic away. We are like Henri, the existentialist cat, in a monochrome world.

When I worked under D. Hildelith Cumming, the great Stanbrook Abbey Press printer, almost the first thing she taught me was the infinite variety there is in the colour black. Yes, black is a colour, and blessed are those who recognize it as such. It transforms everything. It doesn’t mean that the world is suddenly shot through with the myriad brilliant colours Apple promises in its latest retina displays; it doesn’t dispel the blankness of feeling; but it does allow us to see what we previously missed — that there is something beyond our present mood, that there is a gradation in the shadows, and that the shadows themselves only exist because of the abundance of light.


13 thoughts on “In a Monochrome World”

  1. Thank you dear Sister. Most of us I suspect are at present living in the “infinite shades of black”most of the time. My “shaft of light” is reading your blog each morning – especially when, as a 92 yr old slow-learner on all things IT, profoundly deaf and partially sighted, it appears so easily …. The sun is out …. let us raise our eyes to Heaven .. and pray…

  2. I’m adjusting to changing some photographs I’ve taken to black and white. Sometimes it makes things look clearer and better.

    I’m hoping that some others will recognise that some serious problems we have presently, can be better seen and solutions found for everyone if they are perceived less as stark black and white and rather as many different shades of grey. It would probably help if we saw the many different shades of grey on social media ourselves and acted accordingly.

    I’m praying.

    • I hope you will actually shoot in black and white rather than simply use software to turn colour into black and white — many of the results I’ve seen from the latter process are weak on tonality, which is what gives black and white its sharpness and attractiveness (IMO).

  3. Thank you for this. I shall come back to it; it is good to remember, when life is turgidly grey/black, that the greys and the blacks have a quality and essence of their own, to be sat with, savoured, almost – not endured??!
    I wonder if you, like the rest of us, will know just how many “black” religious habits it’s possible to make, depending on the bale of material you are using??

  4. This slightly reminds me of the children’s book “Meg and Mog” where Meg the witch is ordering something for herself from the witches’ mail order catalogue – “7 lovely colours; jet black, bat black, coal black…….”
    Another thought is the sadness that some of the great craft and artistry involved in real type setting and printing has been superceded by the wonders of modern technology. (I speak as one who was a hand music copyist until the computer programme Sibelius arrived and levelled the field to an industry standard which most felt to be inferior).
    More seriously, and following on from your blog the other day, I feel this to be a most confusing time where we know even less about anything than we (thought we) did. Many things we might have thought were nearly black and white seem to be greyer. But I also find great comfort in your clear examinations day by day. Thank you so much.

    • I seem to have lost the answer I made to your comment, so perhaps it was not meant to be! Thank you for yours — and don’t lose heart. I’m sure that the confusion we all experience will clear one day.

  5. The antithesis of black is white, the colour obtained if one spins a spectral card sufficiently fast. A friend reminded me recently of the disastrous impact of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-20. We only have black and white images of that and horrendous were its effects on the world then. Similarly, both World Wars were recorded mainly in black and white as was the partition of India. Too many innocent people died, were maimed or displaced in these catastrophes. Forgive me for associating black and white with disaster. For those who lived through these events, the colours of the day were only too real.
    The great pity of recalling them is that humanity takes a long time to learn the lessons from the past. And then often ignores them.
    Our dear Lord sacrificed His only Son to teach us to live in peace and harmony with each other, to be kind and gentle and to help those in need. Has this all foundered in the darkness? Not if we have faith in God’s love….

  6. Yes, you are right, sister. Photographing intentionally in Black and White is a completely different process of composition to merely converting colour. Light, contrast, and texture, are central to composing a good B&W image. One has to look far harder, but it then becomes exactly analogous to how you describe in the last part of your final sentence. A photographer ‘gets in the zone’, and sees so much they would have missed otherwise.

    This Spanish photographer composes specifically for B&W. Most of his images are taken on foggy or very overcast days and would probably be missed, yet he sees the strikingly beautiful and captures it, so reinforces your point in the article so well…

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