Keeping ourselves inspired during this hard time is key for our health. Mass media triggers unprecedented anxiety levels and everyone on social media platforms seems to be a health expert. Therefore, we decided to cheer you up with 15 black and white photography quotes! Although, it won’t be with photos, but with the wisdom of the black and white world of photography!
Check out our slowly cooked and passionately curated selection of black and white photography quotes. Some of these quotes belong to consecrated photographers, while others relate more to the cultural and fashion fields. We’ve also included quotes belonging to contemporary photographers because they can teach us a lot about the craft that we love the most.
This might seem like a subjective detour. But words, like photographs, do have the power to reach the heart. Therefore, we are sure that many of you will find these quotes dedicated to black and white photography to be quite uplifting!
There are plenty of “X Quotes on (insert your photography topic here)” articles, so we added a twist to our list. Instead of throwing you a bunch of quotes for you to read, we chose to share our reflections with you. This way, you have a better grasp of why we picked these specific black and white photography quotes instead of others.
So, here are the emotional stories of black and white photography.
Unlike color photography, black and white photography is quite open to interpretation. It would be very hard to guess a color based on a gray area. With color out of the picture, black and white aesthetics opens the door for a deeper visual reading. The same composition can be stronger in black and white.
This is a beautiful and playful quote for sure. It has a catch about modernity and our understanding of it. If Karl Lagerfeld himself wasn’t so sure about what modernity is, then we all could be pretty mistaken as well. We read between the lines a reference to the timeless quality of black and white photography. It exceeds the barriers and molds of time, and that’s what makes it such a modern aesthetic. Color gives a clue about when the photograph was taken. Monochrome photographs are timeless.
Sometimes, people consider the black and white aesthetic an artistic solution. Probably the main reason for this is that monochrome photographs appeared on the fine art scene way before the color ones. Keep in mind that hitting the “V” key in Lightroom won’t transform your photos into artworks. Art requires conceptualization and communication, and one of the main issues with contemporary art is its lack of communication. Art should have the power to trigger an aesthetic experience in anyone who sees it.
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Mary Ellen Mark (1940 – 2015) was a fantastic photographer. Her talent allowed her to shoot accurately in both color and black and white formats. That being said, why does she mention the historical connection she feels? Well, this quote refers to image consumption of course! Nowadays images overwhelm us and we might seem like high-quality visual consumers. But as long as we don’t read them at a slow pace, our eyes will just see images passing by at the speed of our thumbs. We need to slow down our screening pace, and we need to consume photos in a slower a more considerate manner. Mary Ellen Mark invites us to read more photographs than “how-to” tutorials and books.
You can try a simple exercise I encourage my students to do. Try spending 10 minutes a day with a single photograph and read it. Avoid other distractions; dedicate a small fraction of your day to simply watching one photograph. And if you can do it in a physical way (prints or photo-books) then the experience will be even more fulfilling.
Wow, this is quite a poetic one. As humans, we tend to dichotomize the world in strange ways. Good and Evil, Light and Shadow, This and That. For Robert Frank (1924 – 2019), one of the most important documentary photographers ever, black and white isn’t a format, black and white is The Format. Monochrome is the true nature of photography. If you love black and white for no apparent reason, then you should embrace this quote as your mantra from here on.
Ansel Adams (1902 – 1984) didn’t refer to “black and white” per se because during the mid-early twentieth century there wasn’t any other commercial solution for large format photographs, his favorite way of working of course. The lesson here aims towards the post-production stage of the photographic workflow rather than the shooting itself. Dodging and Burning were the equivalent of tonal adjustments, or working with the Highlights, Lights, Shadows, and Darks of a RAW file.
There is very little to add here. Black and white photographs have the power of trespassing us in a deeper way than color images do. In black and white, we don’t only photograph our subject matters, we also photograph their souls.
Whoa! There’s so much going on with this quote about black and white photography. So we have to break it up into pieces. High levels of perfection or objectivity could pollute the creative vision one might have about photography. The examples given by Walker Evans (1903 – 1975) refer to domestic photography when you think about it, and “vulgar” shouldn’t be taken as an insult. Just as the term vernacular field is used for color photography. Before going radical about color photography, keep in mind to contextualize Walker Evans’ words to a historical moment in which high-quality film (the pro’s choice of the time) was only produced in panchromatic (powerful black and white) format.
Just like the previous quote, color film (except Kodachrome) was better suited for commercial and domestic purposes. Kodachrome had more than 35 years of being around, and some photographers considered using it when color was needed, such as for photojournalism and other editorial purposes.
Martin Parr (b. 1952) considers serious photography the one aimed for galleries and other artistic purposes. While this is more a historical quote rather than a motivational one, it is still good for understanding why monochrome and color are so different aesthetics beyond the obvious fact.
Black and white photography has this mysterious allure that fiercely invites you to stop and read the image rather than just look at it. As simple as it might be, the black and white world presents us with an alternate reality that we simply can’t see with our regular vision. It is just a desaturated version of reality, and it still has the power to reach our hearts and make us fly!
Black & White Styles
You can’t deny there is an eerie feeling when watching the mundane world in black and white. We need to add another layer to the formula. Black and white happens normally as a post-production decision nowadays, right? So, every black and white image (with a bit of serious further development, not just a grayscale conversion) is an interpretation, making it more mysterious in some cases. How can reality be subject to interpretation? Well, black and white photography is a clear example of how this can be done.
What a beautiful rhetoric we have here. Color photography aims to capture the subject matter as similar to the natural scene as possible. Therefore, the visible (here symbolized by the banality of clothing) is what you get with color photographs. When using black and white, you can capture the unseen elements of humanity. Thanks to RAW file development, we experience photography as an investigating* procedure that gives us access to the unseen, the soul, the spirit of the moment.
* Investigating comes from the Latin phrase “in vestigare”, which means to trace back or to “gently pull one by one all the veils of reality away”
We’ve talked a lot about the aesthetic differences between color and monochrome, but what about the color itself? I mean, everything that surrounds us is color! And this quote makes you think about this. The black and white effect isn’t random; it is a visual representation of color in a grayscale mode. Therefore, natural contrast (the one that happens when combining two colors like red and green, or yellow and blue) should be a theme you pursue when taking photographs. Natural contrast will look even more prominent in a black and white conversion. The best thing is that it won’t look forced or funny when pulling those sliders up.
Justifying your creative decisions in photography is always a healthy practice to do. This will result in a style that you could consider widely your own. That’s something no one can take away from you. Here, Antonia Deutsch gives us personal insight on why she thinks that black and white movies and imagery, in general, led her to specialize in this visual format. Also, the thing about “drama” could be related to the fact that black and white allows us to implement harsher settings while developing our photograph. Simply try to enhance a color photograph with the same amount of contrast from a black and white conversion. You’ll be scared right away!
Black and white style is way more generous than color when it comes to development, and this isn’t something new. Black and white film was also more permissive when it came to chemicals and development. Technically speaking, you can develop your black and white film even with coffee and vitamin C if you don’t have proper chemicals around. Doing that with color is just unthinkable.
If you are interested in dreams and oneiric feelings, then black and white photography is definitely for you. It feels familiar, of course, but it will always have the mystic veil of showing us the world in a way we simply can’t record with our eyes. The same happens with long exposures if you think about it. Photography has the power of showing us a reality that we can’t see. And it is quite easy to achieve it too!
If you are not convinced that the black and white aesthetic offers a window to the unknown and the strange, then try this for a second. Try to see with your eyes, without filters or any other aid, your surroundings in a clear monochrome way. It will require a huge amount of imagination and you won’t do it as well as photography. If we consider a holistic abstraction of real life, then black and white photography is exactly that!
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Never forget that black and white photography is a creative call. Doing it just to emulate other people’s work is not as interesting as if you do it for a personal reason. Also important, if a photograph works in color, then you should leave it like that. Or ask some peers for advice if you don’t know what to do. As in many other things in life, the feedback of third parties on our photographs is a valuable thing to have.
Back in the days of film when color photography was scarce, people simply didn’t reflect too much on the monochrome nature photos had. Black and white photography was taken for granted and that was it. As color film became widely accessible, photographers started to think a bit more about B&W. Hence, the little black and white photography quotes belonging to masters such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, André Kértesz, and many others.
With fine color technology, nowadays black and white is purely a matter of choice and not a prior one like in the days of film. It can happen in post-production while developing our fully colored RAW files. Justifying our creative decisions when it comes to monochrome is fundamental for accurate adjustments in Capture One or Lightroom or whatever you use for bringing your photos to life.
We hope that this brief selection of black and white photography quotes has the power of cheering you up! We’ll get through this together. Use this time to think about creative concepts for future development!