Black and white sailboats

There’s a photo of feluccas in my WWII collection, a captivating image of Egyptian boats sailing on the Nile. It doesn’t make me want to sail on one, but it does hold my complete attention with its beauty of vast white sails amid blacks and whites and greys.

The grace and fullness of their sails, the rounded triangular bow of the wooden boat, as though cloth were wrapped round the hull and pulled up to a point, the thin leaning mast, all of it, whenever I rediscover this photo in my collection I can’t take my eyes off it.

Visiting our local sailing club a few weeks ago, I saw some learners in boats with white sails, and compared the sight with the group of feluccas in my photo. I momentarily wished I was standing by the Nile. I’ve converted the photo of the club boats to black and white for comparison with my father’s photo from 1941, but I see that the beauty of the older image is all in the size and whiteness of the foreground sail outlined against the sky. The tree on the right, leaning out at the same angle as the sails, is also pleasing. And the wind in the sails shows the boats are moving. A good composition.

On the other hand it’s hard to detect movement in the modern photo. A loss. However, there is no loss in removing the colour, and possibly a gain, as the image is composed of greys and whites, with only a fluoro green stripe on each sail and dark green bushland on the mountain. Reducing it to black and white turns it into a story rather than a happy snap.

My judgement after comparing the two photos is that the 1941 image is superior. After looking at colour images online of feluccas, I’m convinced that some photo compositions are better without it.


Published by Trish

Literary translator

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