Many art pictures are in black and white, as well as many of the greatest reportage photographs. The black and white is often seen as a “connoisseur style”.
One wonders why, considering that the world is in color. That color has always been the core of painting. That the advent of color movies was considered a revolution. How can high definition coexist with impressionist painting, the hyper-realism and hyper-chromatism of some fashion photos with a two-color style? How can it be that the great photographer makes black and white her characteristic while the painter makes the same with colors, and both tell truth? Is this simply about stylistic choice or is there something more?
In other words, what is the appeal of black and white, and wherefrom does it take its energy? Our perception of reality is largely conveyed by contrasts, empties and fulls, presences and absences. This happens not only in visual reality, but also in the emotional one. Darkness is the absence of light, a desert is more absence of water than abundance of sand, evil is absence of good. Light, water, good, life: all these are presence. Dark, desert, evil, death: these are absence. The black and white visually reproduce the eternal duality between life and death. In the middle, life stands, with its infinite shades of gray.
Colors seem at times to add, at times to distract from the essence of things. In war reportage, blood is removed from the viewer’s sight without alleviating the drama. By weakening the harsh violence of some situations, that may be strong enough to divert the viewer’s attention towards macabre particulars, the black and white may facilitate the perception of the profound meaning of the description. The black and white recall the essence: the one is the absorption of all colors, the other their synthesis. They therefore contain every color, every failure and every vital presence.