5 Black and White Photography Shots You Have to See
The black and white image has been a historically powerful tool. Despite the invention of color photography, it still remains a dominant genre in today’s visual culture. By removing the distraction of color and allowing the other elements of an image to dominate, black and white photography allows creators to effectively communicate the key messages behind an image. This makes it a useful tool for not only fine artists, but also for photojournalists and activists. Today, join us on an exploration of black and white photography through five iconic images!
1. Bill T. Jones by Robert Mapplethorpe
A legendary artist and photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe shot a wide range of subject matter from celebrity portraits to still lifes. He is equally known for his photographic documentation of the gay BDSM subculture of late 1960s and early 1970s New York City, which are some of his most controversial works. In this portrait, Mapplethorpe captures the simultaneous grace and athleticism of his subject, American dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones.
2. Affrontements entre les forces de l’ordre et les étudiants, boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris, 6 mai 1968 by Gilles Caron
May 1968 marked the beginning of a period of civil unrest across France. Starting in Paris before spreading across the country, students protested against capitalism, consumerism, traditional institutions and American imperialism. After being met with harsh police repression, these protests were soon followed by sympathy strikes in immense numbers all over France, eventually leading to an economic standstill and fears of civil war. French photographer and photojournalist Gilles Caron recorded the events of May ‘68 as well as numerous high-profile conflicts worldwide through the medium of photography. In his image Manifestation CGT, Caron captures the conflict from a close range between protestors and police.
3. Space2 by Francesca Woodman
Francesca Woodman’s black and white photographs often show the artist semi-nude, partially hidden, blurred or obscured by her surroundings. Featuring decaying interiors and props such as surrealist objects and vintage clothing, her works are hard to attach to any one historical period, giving them a sense of timelessness.
In her short career, which ended at just 22 years old, Woodman produced over 800 photographs. Frequently interpreted through the lens of her suicide, Woodman’s work is often reduced to the dark expression of a mythologized tragic figure. Her photographs, however, are much more complex, exploring themes such as identity, alienation, relationships and sexuality. Her innovation in the field of fine art photography paved the way for later artists who used the medium to explore similar themes, such as Nan Goldin and Cindy Sherman.
4. Magritte X 3 by Duane Michals
An important artistic influence on Francesca Woodman, Duane Michals is an American photographer known for his innovation in the field of photography. During a period when photojournalism dominated the photography world, Michals instead used the medium to produce surreal and experimental images. His work Magritte X 3 is an example of his signature style, often featuring multiple exposures or series of images. This technique mimics the frame-by-frame format of films, suggesting a narrative that goes beyond the still image itself. Michals produced numerous images of the surrealist icon René Magritte, who was a key influence on Michals’ work.
5. Couple Jitterbugging in juke joint, Memphis, Tennessee by Marion Post Wolcott
Marion Post Wolcott was an activist and photographer who worked for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), an organization created to combat rural poverty during the Great Depression in America. Wolcott documented the wealth inequalities and race relations in America, as well as the positive impact of government subsidies. Her work Couple Jitterbugging in juke joint, Memphis, Tennessee captures a moment of joy between a young couple dancing the jitterbug, a popular ballroom dance in the US during the 1930s and ’40s.
A universal appeal…
The persistence of black and white photography in visual culture, despite advances in technology, demonstrates the widespread appeal and power of this genre. Removing color from an image both places emphasis on the message behind the work and imbues it with a sense of timelessness, making its themes more accessible and universal. Now you know our five favorite black and white photographs of the moment, which would you add to the list?
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