Shades of Grey

Grey is how I saw the world in my early childhood: in monochrome newspapers, television and old photographs. It seemed as if two world wars had leached all colour. And then it returned in the sixties.

My nan had a drawer in her bedroom dressing table which was full to the brim with black and white photographs. We used to sit on her bed, sifting through them, with me pointing at people and asking ‘Who’s that?’

Nan and Granddad had a television long before my parents did and I would spend most Saturday afternoons watching old movies with Granddad, especially those with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – beautiful and exciting, but grey.

All those grey pictures made me think that the past and the rest of the world existed in shades of grey. Only my little world had any colour.

silver threads of hoar
snowy landscape tinged with ash
different shades of grey

Kim M. Russell, 2018

Nanny at work019
This photograph was taken in 1931 at my nan’s workplace. She’s in the front row, third from right.

My response to dVerse Poets Pub Quadrille: The beauty and the misery of grey

Björn is our host this Monday and he would like us to consider grey as a subject for haibun. He says that grey can be everything between black and white, all the possibilities of compromise and harmony. It is also absence of color – an absence of joy. Grey is winter, whiteout, mist and rain. It could be the swelling of the sea. It is ink-wash, old pewter and the haircolour of old age.

Our challenge is to bring grey into a piece of personal (non-fictional) prose of no more than 200 words, with added a haiku (including season and nature).

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57 thoughts on “Shades of Grey

  1. One of my great-aunties remarked that the sepia of old photographs of her and her siblings when they were children made them look so dirty and poverty-stricken. Colour was brash and modern and comfortable. The past had no colour and it was miserable. So we thought anyway.

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    1. I’ve always loved black and white photography, even dabbled in it back in the seventies and developed my own. Nowadays, colour is the norm and black and white seems to be considered arty.

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  2. Oh wow, Kim. It’s like you bring the past to life in several ways, as that is really how it’s all portrayed before the sixties, drab and dull, gray no matter how many shades. Then the color explosions and revolutions. It even seems pigment of paint in fine art has since become brighter and more vibrant.

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    1. Thank you Amaya. I’m a big fan of black and white photography and have prints of photographs by Herman Landshoff and Norman Parkinson. When I lived in Germany in the seventies, I used to develop my own black and white photographs,.

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    1. Thank you so much, Eric. The only reason my grandparents had a black and white TV was because my great uncle worked at the Marconi factory during and after the war. He got them discounts on radios and the TV set. It’s in the background in a very early photo of me – I’ll share it one day 🙂 Mum and Dad didn’t have a TV until I was quite a bit older – it was a rented black and white one when everyone else had colour. They didn’t have a telephone until I left home!

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  3. lost my comment due to Microsoft ads….bastards. But I loved your portrayal of grey. We must be of the same age, Kim. Right now, and for the past few weeks, the sky is grey, the ground has no green, just dun, and the clouds are a heavy grey. More than 50 shades of grey possible. Grey is the color of memories I believe and you nailed it.

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  4. Oh, those old black and white movies. I still love them. I’d forgotten about black and white photos – but you’re right, they do affect our sense of what the world was like back then. If you do see early colour film it’s a little disconcerting.

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  5. My mother had boxes of black and white photos. I love that you did B&W photography and developed your own. I too did that although I did it for a living for awhile, doing food photography in B&W of all things, developing and printing my own. I loved the old B&W movies but never saw them as such. In my mind I could see all the colors. We had our first tv when I was 5 – huge box and tiny screen. I still love B&W cartoons to this day. I love how you mixed memory and that only your little world had color. The haiku is lovely – truly reveling in the shades of grey. Gorgeous write.

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    1. Thank you, Toni. I still enjoy black and white films and photos. Everything is digital and instant now, so the magic we used to perform in developing is all done on computer – still fun, though!

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  6. I didn’t get a color tv until high school (1983!) – we only had two tv’s one small black and white tv and one of those old tv’s in a wooden box like structure (? – think that was it). Didn’t get a color tv until my Uncle died, by Dad had it shipped to our house – the old fashioned big and bulky kind. Had a dial phone forever – they didn’t replace it until the late 1990’s. No dishwasher – no microwave until I move out mid 1980’s. And a whole dresser filled with black and white photography. Yes, very nostalgic for me too. I liked this poem a lot – brought back memories.

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  7. Remember how turning off the TV the spot of light got smaller and smaller in the center of the screen, finally plinking out completely?
    I pity the generation that will never have a shoebox of curling photos to sort through and wonder at.
    Cool take on the prompt.

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  8. Sorry for this late response….
    Those old black and white photos are treasures already and it’s hard to imagine how special (and strange) they will seem as time goes by. I love the examples of greys in your haibun and the how your little world of colour peeks out from it.

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