Keeping ourselves inspired during these strange days is key for our own health. News trigger unknown anxiety levels; and everyone on social media platforms seems to be a health expert as well. Therefore, we decided to cheer you up! Although, it won’t be with photos, but with brief excerpts of absolute photographic wisdom!
Here you can read our slowly cooked and passionately curate selection of the black and white photography quotes. Some of these come from consecrated photographers, while others relate more to the cultural and fashion fields. And some others from contemporary photographers that could teach us beautiful things about the craft that we love the most.
This might seem like a very personal and even subjective detour. But quotes do have the discursive power of making us smile in practically any circumstance. And since we don’t consider ourselves to be a unique spirit, we are sure that many of you’ll find this to be quite uplifting!
“X Quotes on (insert your photography topic here)” articles are abundant out there, so we’ve given this list a small twist. We haven’t limited to throwing you a bunch of quotes for you to read, we also want to share our own reflections with you so you can have a better grasp about why we picked these black and white photography quotes instead of other ones.
So, enough talking and let’s start with them!
Opposite to regular photography, black and white is quite open to interpretation thanks to the absence of color it has. It would be very hard to tell a precise color based on a gray-scale tonality, therefore it doesn’t matter that much for the reading. Black and white opens the door for a deeper visual reading than color.
This is a beautiful and playful quote for sure. It has a catch about modernity and our understanding of it. If Herr Lagerfeld himself wasn’t that sure about what modernity was, then we all could be pretty mistaken as well. Between the lines what we could decode is a reference to the timeless quality black and white photography has. It basically exceeds the barriers and molds of time, and that’s what makes it such a modern artifact. With color, it is easy to spot an era or epoch, but with black and white it isn’t.
Sometimes, people consider black and white as an artistic solution. And perhaps the main reason why is because monochrome had it’s break into the fine art scene way before color. So maybe that’s why. The important thing to remember here is that hitting that “V” key in Lightroom won’t make your photos pieces of art right away. Art requires a concept that has something to tell, and one of the main issues with contemporary art, is its lack of communication. It seems like just the author knows the meaning of the art piece! And we consider that as a mistake. Art should have the power for triggering aesthetic experiences in its viewers too.
Mary Ellen Mark was a fantastic photographer and a personal favorite in fact. Her talent allowed her to shoot accurately in both formats, color and black and white. Said that, what is she talking about the historical connection she feels? Well, she is referring to image consumption of course! With images overwhelming our eyes nowadays it could seem that we are also high visual consumers. But as long as we don’t read them in a slow paced rhythm, 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 way. She is almost inviting us here to read more photographs than “how to” tutorials and books.
For this you can try a simple exercise that I encourage my students to do. Try spending 10 minutes a day with a single photograph and read it. Avoid other windows, dedicate that 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 savorier.
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 or That. For Robert Frank, one of the most important documentary photographers ever, black and white isn’t a format, black and white is the format. They both render the true nature of photography, and if you love black and white for no apparent reason, then you should embrace this quote as your personal mantra from here on.
Ansel Adams didn’t refer to “black and white” per se because during the mid-early twentieth century there wasn’t a commercial solution for large format photographs, his favorite way of working of course. The lesson here is aimed towards the post-production stage of the photography’s workflow rather than the shooting itself. Dodging and Burning was 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.
Whoa! There’s so much going on with this quote about black and white photography. So we should break it up into pieces. High levels of perfection or objectivity could pollute the creative vision one might have about photography. The examples that Evans throws all refer to domestic photography when you think about it, and “vulgar” shouldn’t be taken as an insult. Just as the vernacular field which color photography is better suited for. 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 one, color film (except Kodachrome) was better suited for commercial and domestic purposes. Kodachrome had by this time more than 35 years of being around, and some photographers had considered it when color was needed, like photojournalism and some other editorial purposes.
Serious photography here was referred by Martin Parr at that one aimed for galleries and other artistic purposes. Therefore, this is more of a historical quote rather than a motivational one, but it is still good for understanding why monochrome and color are so different 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 watching it. As simple as it might be, black and white presents to us 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 of making us fly away!
You can’t deny that there is an eerie feeling of watching the quotidian world in black and white. And to this, 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 gray-scale 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 is possible.
What a beautiful rhetoric we have here. Color photography aims to capture stuff as closer it can get to reality. Therefore, the visible (here symbolized by clothes and the banality of them) is what you get with color photographs. But, with black and white, you can capture the unseen elements of humanity. Thanks to raw file development we experience that as an investigating* procedure that leaves us with the unseen, the soul, the spirit of the moment in our hands.
* Investigating comes from latin phrases of “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 color itself? I mean, everything that surrounds us is color! And this quote serves precisely for thinking about this. Black and white isn’t random, it is a visual representation of color in a gray-scale mode. Therefore, natural contrast (the one that happens when combining two colors like red and green or yellow and blue) should be a pursuing theme 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 nor 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 a personal insight about 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 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 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 stuff in a way we simply can record it with our own eyes. The same happens with long exposure when you think about it. Photography has the power of showing us a reality that we can’t see. And it is quite easy for it to achieve it too!
If you are not convinced that black and white offers a window to the unknown and the strange, then try this for a second. Try to see with your own eyes, and with no filters or any other aid, your surroundings in a clear monochrome way. It will require a huge amount of imagination to even try it out, and you won’t achieve it like photography can. If we think about a holistic abstraction of real life as a whole thing, then black and white is that!
Want to learn more?
Never forget that black and white is a creative call. Doing it for simply emulating others’ work is not as interesting as if you do it for a solid 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, third party opinions about our photographs is a valuable thing to have.
Back to the days of film when color photography was scarce, people simply didn’t reflect too much on the monochrome nature photos had. Basically black and white was taken for granted and that was it. As color film became widely accessible, photographers started thinking a bit more about B&W. Hence the little “black and white” photography quotes from past masters like Henri Cartier-Bresson, André Kértesz and many others.
With fine color rendition, black and white is purely a matter of choice nowadays, and not a prior one like in the days of film. Now, it happens 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 might like using 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, and now is a perfect time for thinking about creative concepts for future development!