Black and White Photography

After doing my research, I came to the realisation that the majority of the photos that I was personally drawn to were all shot in black and white. Many of them were older photographs, however, and shot in black and white out of necessity, as ‘the first commercially successful color photography process appeared on the market in 1907’ (Widewalls, 2017). It was wasn’t until the 1960’s and 70’s when ‘prices were finally coming down, film sensitivity improved, and color photography became a norm for snapshot-taking, nearly pushing black-and-white film completely out of use’ (Widewalls, 2017). Despite having a wide access to colour photography, I want to explore black and white photography and why it still remains so appealing. 

Romanticised or Nostalgic?

1 – Ansel Adams, 2 – Lunch Atop a Skyscraper (unknown photographer), 3 – Bill Brandt, 4 – May Ray, 5 – Richard Avedon, 6 – Elliot Erwitt, 7 – Sally Mann 

I personally feel that black and white photography is so much more visually striking than colour photography. Sometimes, I find colour photographs to be slightly overwhelming. Through eliminating the colours, other aspects of the image are accentuated, such as light, shadow and contrast. Therefore, the focal point stands out more, like what is demonstrated in the photographs above.

However, I think that it is very likely that, because I am from the millennial generation, I may have a more romanticised view of black and white photography. It may hold more of a special quality to me because black and white photographs weren’t the norm whilst I was growing up. They were unusual and considered to be from a different era of time, snapshots of ancestors from a long time ago and photos in history books. On the other hand, ‘for all the generations that lived before the occurrence of [the] controversial digital revolution, black and white photography has obtained an important place in the collective consciousness’ (Widewalls, 2016). They will most likely feel nostalgic for a different era and will therefore feel differently about black and white photography. 

Black and White Street Photographers

Even when colour photography started to become widely available, some street photographers still preferred black and white photography, such as Henri Cartier Bresson who ‘refused to work in color, disappointed by the mediocre results’ (Widewalls, 2016). Even in this era, although it is rarer ‘to come across artists who primarily work in black and white’ (Newson, 2015), due to the fact that we are living ‘in a world that is predominantly ruled by colour images’ (Newson, 2015), there are still some street photographers who prefer black and white photography. One example is Jason Peterson, who I researched for my mobile phone photography blogpost. He explains that in his images, he is ‘trying to capture human emotion, make the viewer feel something. Black and white helps focus on that emotion – color is one less thing to be in the way of seeing the feeling’ (Stewart, 2017). I feel that this explains why black and white photography works so well within street photography. This is also reflected in the quote above by Canadian photographer, Ted Grant, who explains how, in black and white photography, you are photographing peoples souls. 

Another street photographer who predominantly takes black and white photos is Japanese photographer, Daidō Moriyama. He is said to take quite a casual approach to his photography. He explains how his ‘photos are often out of focus, rough, streaky, warped, etc. But if you think about it, a normal human being will in one day perceive an infinite number of images, and some of them are focused upon, others are barely seen out of the corner of one’s eye’ (Photogpedia, 2021). I feel that this quote captures my definition of street photography perfectly (a photograph taken in the street of a singular moment in time). Due to his work being in black and white, this ‘results in work that is refreshingly modern, hard to place in time, a cacophony of harmonious chaos’ (Clay, 2021) I feel that this helps to capture the fleeting moments on the distinctively hectic Japanese streets.  

References:

Widewalls (2017) A short history of color photography. Available online: https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/color-photography [Accessed 11/11/21].

Widewalls (2016) The nature of black and white photography. Available online: https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/black-and-white-photography [Accessed 11/11/21].

Newson, A (2015) The best photographers working in black and white. Available online: https://www.dazeddigital.com/photography/article/28577/1/the-best-photographers-working-in-black-and-white [Accessed 11/11/21].

Stewart, J (2017) Over 1 Million people follow this photographer for his stunning B&W photos. Available online: https://mymodernmet.com/jason-peterson-black-white-photography/ [Accessed 12/11/21].

Photogpedia (2021) 40 Daidō Moriyama quotes to improve your street photography. Available online: https://photogpedia.com/daido-moriyama-quotes/ [Accessed 12/11/21].

Clay, E (2021) Daido Moriyama’s Tokyo. Available online: https://independent-photo.com/news/daido-moriyama-tokyo/ [Accessed 12/11/21].

Image References:

Ansel Adams:

Gray, J (2020) Iconic Ansel Adams image sells for nearly $1M at Sotheby’s auction, total sales of $6.4M. Available online: https://www.dpreview.com/news/4925755857/iconic-ansel-adams-image-sells-for-nearly-1m-at-sotheby-s-auction-total-sales-of-6-4m [Accessed 12/11/21].

Lunch Atop a Skyscraper:

Kenney, J (2019) One of the most iconic photos in history was actually staged. Available online: https://doyouremember.com/104712/lunch-atop-a-skyscraper-staged [Accessed 12/11/21].

Bill Brandt:

Photogpedia (2021) Bill Brandt: shadows of life. Available online: https://photogpedia.com/bill-brandt/ [Accessed 12/11/21].

Man Ray:

BBC (2014) Genius of photography – Man Ray. Available online: https://www.bbc.co.uk/photography/genius/gallery/ray.shtml [Accessed 12/11/21].

Richard Avedon:

Public Delivery (2021) Richard Avedon’s famous beekeeper portrait – the story behind. Available online: https://publicdelivery.org/richard-avedon-beekeeper/ [Accessed 12/11/21].

Elliot Erwitt:

Magnum Photos (n.d.) Life according to Elliot Erwitt. Available online: https://www.magnumphotos.com/arts-culture/society-arts-culture/elliott-erwitt-life/ [Accessed 12/11/21].

Sally Mann:

Vintage Everyday (2017) “Candy Cigarette” (1989) by Sally Mann. Available online: https://www.vintag.es/2017/08/candy-cigarette-1989-by-sally-mann.html [Accessed 12/11/21].

Ted Grant Quote found on:

Saini, R (n.d.) 14 excellent examples of street photography in black and white. Available online: https://photzy.com/14-excellent-examples-of-street-photography-in-black-and-white/ [Accessed 12/11/21].

Daidō Moriyama: 

Artsy (n.d.) Daidō Moriyama. Available online: https://www.artsy.net/artist/daido-moriyama/works-for-sale [Accessed 12/11/21].

 

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