All images by Magdalena Pilecka. Used with permission.
Photographer Magdalena Pilecka’s Black and White Stories series is an incredible collection of black and white images that strongly pull their inspiration from those classic silent horror films from the dawn of cinema. A time where there were no crazy sound effects or crazy special effects to blow a viewer away, the motion picture itself was the crazy new technology, and these horror visuals had to be particularly strong in order to get the point across without any audio to aid them.
One film, in particular, was a big inspiration for Ms. Pilecka while she was developing this series.”My biggest inspiration was ‘Kitchen Sink’ by Alison Maclean. There is everything that I enjoy in this movie: suspense, psychosis, mystery, weirdness and creepiness mixed with an ordinary day.” She said of the film, and you can certainly see its influence in the series itself.
Interestingly enough, though, this series was not exactly a developed plan from the beginning. In fact, Ms. Pilecka tells La Noir Image that she actually created the set mostly with images that didn’t work or fit right with her other series. A bunch of ‘Black Sheep’ she called them, which you may find somewhat surprising given how well the collection seems to go together. But this was actually partly why she ended up choosing to develop and process the series in black and white, by removing the distraction of color, she was able to process the images in a similar way that helped to create that feeling that they belonged together.
All this despite the fact that they had actually been shot far apart from each other for different series and were in many ways, totally unrelated until she decided to collect them into this Black and White Stories series. “All the pictures come from different periods of time. There were some pictures that I liked but they had never fit with any of my other series.” Ms. Pilecka noted of the development process for the series. “These pictures were kind of ‘black sheep’ so I set them aside for a while till I found an idea how to connect them all together.”
As with many great photo series out there, Ms. Pilecka says that she didn’t set out with this grand plan to produce a compelling supernatural series. It all started out as some fun, a way to step away from her day gig as a Filmmaker and play with her hobby of photography. “To be honest, I don’t think about myself as a photographer. I am a filmmaker and photography is my precious hobby. For me, it is like a short movie presented in a different way which, in fact, might be still open and not finished.” she said.
Utilizing and old Yashica T2, Olympus XA2 and various films, the entire series was shot with this vintage equipment, which helps add to that old turn of the century horror feel. But it wasn’t without the help of some modern digital manipulation, as Ms. Pilecka credits Photoshop with allowing her to really bring all of the images together and give them a similar look and feel, really helping to sell the collection of images as a series, rather than a gallery of forgotten images.
While she is also a fan of color imagery, Ms. Pilecka notes that in this particular case by processing the images in black and white, it made the job of tying the images together much easier. “Some stories just look better in black and white. However, I am also a big fan of color. These pictures were quite different originally, so I decided to find a one style to make them all look like a ‘family’. It was much easier to achieve by using monochrome. And it worked perfectly together.” she explained of the process, which involved converting some color film scans into black and white in Photoshop, matching grains, and similar imperfections to give images shot on different films a familiar and similar feel.
But Ms. Pilecka says it sounds much more deliberate than it actually was. In fact, she likened the processing phase of this series to that of drawing silly mustaches on the cover of a magazine. That is to say, she was mostly playing around until she found a look and feel that she was happy with. Again going back to that theme of doing the series for the fun of it, rather than with a clear set of goals in mind, but more as an exercise in creativity and experimentation.
Ms. Pilecka ends her Black and White Stories series with an interesting phrase ‘Bad Day, Good Night’ which she explains is supposed to parallel someone telling you good night after telling you a scary story, while at the same time referencing her creative habits. “I am also more creative at night. After the whole unproductive day, I used to (finally!) start doing something when the sun goes down. I love the process of creating and that is what makes my night good.” she explains.
It’s an inspiration to see such a series be cobbled together from a bunch of random black sheep images, processed for fun into a cohesive, unique series that excellently calls us back to that nostalgia of classic horror. Magdalena Pilecka’s Black and White Stories is the best kind of nightmare, the kind you hope you have again and again.