I'm re-reading my worn copy of David Halberstam's popular history The Fifties (1993). The author was a fine storyteller and his broad survey of major social, political, and cultural changes in the United States is a great way to get back in the groove of thinking about that decade (though I don't recall too much depth of information about motion pictures beyond the cultural influences of Brando and Dean). However, I was surprised to find a connection with yesterday's post when I re-read the very first line of the preface:
The fifties were captured in black and white, most often by still photographers; by contrast the decade that followed was, more often than not, caught in living color on tape or film. Not surprisingly, in retrospect the pace of the fifties seemed slower, almost languid. Social ferment, however, was beginning just beneath this placid surface.
I don't know about social ferment but the notion that our memories and ideas about the 1950s are, for the lack of a better word, colored by the fact that the images of those years are mostly in black and white is fascinating. Do monochromatic images really influence the way we imagine an entire era? If so, wouldn't we think of, say, the 1920s in the same way? Perhaps we do. If the majority of images from the 1950s were shot in full color would that really change the way we think about those years? Would they seem more exciting? More accessible? Do black and white pictures ever brim with immediacy or do they always wrench us through time and feel like records of the past? What other ideas pop into our imagination when we see black and white images?