History of Black and White Photography
The history of black and white photography originated in ancient times with the advent of the camera obscura, but the development of the medium did not really take off until the early 1800s. The refinement of the camera arose from a series of experiments, beginning with Thomas Wedgwood’s silver nitrate paper method. In the 1820s, Nicephore Niepce successfully created a photograph, though the process took days to complete and only produced negatives. His partner Louis Daguerre yielded better results with his well-known daguerreotype process, which was introduced to the public in 1839. This invention sparked a high demand for portraiture. Later experiments shortened exposure time and improved the formal qualities of photographs. Photographer Sergei Lvovich Levitsky introduced the use of interchangeable backdrops for photo shoots and retouched negatives to remove any imperfections. By 1884, portable film replaced glass plates, and soon after, the first Kodak cameras were sold. As cameras and film became more accessible to the public, black and white photographic art developed both inside and outside the studio. Today the tradition continues on both digital and analog platforms.
Black and White Photography Techniques
Photographers can choose to start with a color photo, then dramatically alter the overall effect using digital conversion to grayscale or edit their black and white photography with color accents. Conversely, those who prefer analog photography may choose to shoot using black and white film. Although the virtues of film over digital in the realm of black and white photography is highly debatable, some analog enthusiasts cite such subtleties as film grain, dynamic range (i.e. whiter whites and blacker blacks), and more detailed highlights as top reasons for shooting with black and white film. Photographers may also decide to manipulate their black and white photographs. Surrealist photographers, for example, used techniques like multiple exposures, brulage (in which the negative is heated and partially burned), and solarization (in which the color tones are reversed), to achieve an uncanny effect in their works. Regardless of the process, many contemporary fine-art photographers still choose to use some level of digital image editing for enhancement.
Artists Known For Black and White Photography
One of the most well-known photographers of monochromatic imagery is Ansel Adams, whose name is practically synonymous with black and white landscape photography. Several well-known photojournalists used the medium to document current events. Dorothea Lange is known for “Migrant Mother” (1936) and other images of life during the Great Depression, Robert Capa is famed for his war photo essays like “Capturing the Truth,” and Ernest Cole and David Goldblatt photographed apartheid life in South Africa. Modernist photographer Alfred Stieglitz is credited with producing the first abstract photographs in his “Equivalents” series (1925-1934), which depicted the sky and clouds. Famous black and white photographs include Robert Doisneau’s iconic “Kiss by the Town Hall” (1950) and artist Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills” self-portrait series (1977-1980). Other photographers famed for their black and white photography include Diane Arbus, Robert Mapplethorpe, Man Ray, Raoul Hausmann, Brassai, Seydou Keita, Malick Sidibe, Ray K. Metzker, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and fashion photographer Herb Ritts.