The Purity of Black and White

Beauty in Black and White

There is an inherent, classic elegance about a black and white photograph. But as a photographer, it’s the simplicity of black and white that makes it particularly appealing.

I wish I could remember who said it, but there is a quote that has been rattling around my brain for quite some time. It was an artist speaking about how to make a great portrait. He said, “The magic of photography becomes possible when you are able to look deep enough into the subject to see a glimpse of yourself.” The more I thought about it, the more it explained the type of photograph I am naturally drawn to.

I’ve always loved monotone closeups. Faces, particularly a person’s eyes and expression, draw me in. Instagram knows it, too! They put those shots in my feed all the time, and, occasionally, I get lost in them. When the distractions of clothing and surroundings are eliminated, what’s left is precisely who the subject is as a human being in that moment, and the story of how they reached that point.

Look at a closeup of a groom wiping his eyes when he sees his bride for the first time. Or a tight shot of a World War II veteran as he recounts his experiences. I saw one the other day of a homeless man that I got caught up in. His pain was in his eyes even though he gave his crooked attempt at a smile some obvious effort. And I thought about where he may have come from and what he might be struggling with. I wished him good fortune.

The photograph did its job. It made me stop. It made me think. And it made me feel. The simplification of the elements of the photograph, via the subtraction of color from the equation and pulling focus to the face with framing, make it not just a photograph of what the person looks like, but who they are in that moment.

It’s the goal of every photograph, of course. It’s simply made much more likely, and ultimately, more pure, with the elements simplified.


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