Beauty in Black and White


There is an old saying in art that goes “Value does all the work, colour gets all the credit”. In this case, ‘value’ refers to colour brightness, its tone – light or dark – which creates contrast, and with it comes composition. If we think of painting, colour is most engaging, noticeable immediately. But value is much more important than colour to the creation of a successful painting, drawing, photograph or design artwork. These are photographer and printmaker Zvezdan Reljić’s words, as he explains his love for working in black and white.

Now, while Saz Mifsud’s silk scarves are indeed defined by their beautiful colours, the photographer was curious to see what her scarves would look like in monochrome tones. So, he decided to photograph them with a film camera using black and white film and hand-print them as silver gelatin prints and organised a shoot with Suzi.

Zvezdan’s is an old method in which he enlarges the film negative on silver gelatin black and white photographic paper which are developed in the darkroom by hand in a heavily diluted ‘lith developer’. This was originally used to develop graphic art film in pre-computer pre-press studios.

“The shot was not in focus and there was camera movement but it showed her real expression … It was beautiful and Saz’s light patterned silk scarf looked so full-bodied.””

Zvezdan is a graduate of the Graphic Arts School in Belgrade, and always kept close to heart his love for the printer’s craft. There’s a definite elegance to Zvezdan Reljić’s silver gelatin lith prints. Their old, grainy look and soft tones, combined with the grace in which he captures his subjects leave a finished portrait that has an air of delicacy, a touch of the ethereal and a good helping of nostalgia.

He found himself drawn to his model’s classic beauty that, in his words, “she is not aware of”. He confides how he does not “like or know how to photograph models who pose too much”. Having agreed on using the scarves as inspiration, Zvezdan told Suzi to simply wear the scarves as she would were she in front of her mirror at home. And so these beautiful photos came to life as Suzi invented different ways of wrapping the scarves around herself or even during those moments when she asked the photographer, “Is this OK?”.

The scarves themselves take on new life in these portraits. The contrasts between the darker and the lighter shades are more striking as they twist and fall delicately around and off Suzi’s contours. Zvezdan’s favourite of this collection is one where Suzi is looking directly at the camera. While she was preparing herself, she was chatting to Zvezdan and asked him whether both sides of the scarf were even. “I remember taking the camera up at that moment and shooting quickly,” reminisces Zvezdan.

He explains further:

“medium cameras are heavy and with a manual focus, so I just snapped. The shot was not in focus and there was camera movement, but it showed her real expression and also on the lith print I created of it. It was beautiful and Saz’s light patterned silk scarf looked so full-bodied.”

Photos: Zvezdan Reljić