Seeing More in Black and White

Posted on Oct 15, 2016

This one’s for trinity1945. (Several months ago you commented here that you looked forward to seeing what I had to say about eroticism in black and white.)

Kelly Havel

Ted Grant said, “When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”


For sexual arousal, or even just appreciation of female beauty, I far prefer images that don’t seem posed. Of course this is an illusion, but an effective one. The more obvious clichés—like the model with her head thrown back and running her fingers through her hair, or mouth gaping in a horny come-on—seem pointless to me. They are artifice without either art or arousal. The choice to shoot (and publish) in black and white allows the photographer to be honest about the artifice from the get go. The paradoxical effect is that black and white pictures sometimes have more impact than “more realistic” ones in color.

Martina Warren

Think of Mathew Brady (Civil War-era), Margaret Bourke-White, Dorthea Lange and Walker Evans (three people whose photographs shaped our “memory” of the Great Depression), or Ansel Adams, Annie Liebowitz, Diane Arbus and Robert Mapplethorpe; or any of the iconic black and white images from the Spanish Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam (many of them by Robert Capa who covered all those conflicts); or the photojournalism of Don McCullough and Sebastiao Selgado. (Many of Selgado’s most iconic images, such as the gold pits in Bolivia, are featured in a recent film by Wim Wenders called ‘The Salt of the Earth,’ which I highly recommend.)

The distinctive body of work of each of these great photographers demonstrates that black and white photographs often feel more immediate or capture intimate moments in a way that is harder to do in color.

Georgia Jones

Monique Alexander

“Colour is distracting in a way, it pleases the eye but it doesn’t necessarily reach the heart.” ―Kim Hunter

“One very important difference between color and monochromatic photography is this: in black and white you suggest; in color you state.” —Paul Outerbridge

We call it “black and white,” but a true b&w photo would look like a construction paper cut-out. It’s the shades of grey that make b&w photos interesting, revealing subtleties and ambiguities that are harder to show in the bright and busy nature of color pictures.


In 2002 Leonard Nimoy (aka Spock) published an extraordinary book of black and white photos called ‘Shekhina’ that tries to express the spirit of God through the use of light and the female form. On the book jacket Erica Jong comments on Nimoy’s “urgent and paradoxical quest to make the invisible visible. He has revealed the feminine aspect of spirituality in all its complex beauty.”

Aria Giovanni

I couldn’t find a single black & white photo among Stephen Hicks’ Nature archives (under the Desktop filter in the Top Features menu here). But it’s immediately clear that he was just as concerned about texture and shape-patterns as he was about subject matter. In fact, often such patterns are the subject matter. Many of his photos emphasize light and texture in a way more common to the b&w medium.

Black & white portraits are the haiku of photography, offering the telling detail or the implied story with no distraction.

Stacy Moran

For the first several decades after photography was invented (when it was all black and white) it was presumed to be no more than a functional means of documentation, a tool. Now b&w automatically signals “art.” It reminds us that what we are seeing is not a literal reality, but a representation, a metaphor.

Jamie Lynn

By stepping back from realism, b&w images take use beyond voyeuristic fantasies and see a woman’s body as pure art—but also to appreciate the eroticism of light and shape in their purist form. Some photo sets combine the special qualities of b&w and the realism of color.

Jana Cova

Until next time….enjoy the textures of your life, see shapes you might never have noticed before.



4 Member Comments

rickmar1 over 2 years ago
The little girl in the red coat brought tears to my eyes when I saw it. It would not have had the same impact on me in b&w.
coniow over 2 years ago
On Schindler's List: Would it have had the same impact and authenticity if it was shot in colour? Probably not. And the one bit of colour, the little girl in the red coat? That would have completely LOST it's impact.
trinity1945 over 2 years ago
Albert Arthur Allen, Alfred Cheney Johnston, Andre de Dienes, Brassai, Edward Weston, George Mann, Helmut Newton, Peter Basch. And those are just the ones I collect who photographed naked women in B&W. Oh, hell, & Irving Klaw -- probably 1000 of his images of Bettie Page (God love her!) We are trained now to think of B&W as 'Art', but until the 1960s color was rare. Which is why Steven Spielberg chose to do 'Schindler's List' in B&W -- "It's the way we remember World War II, from black and white newsreels & early TV." The B & W sets here have always been one of my favorite parts of DDG, and certainly one of the things that sets the site off from every other adult site. Nice lesson, MD -- thanks.
coniow over 2 years ago
A thought provoking post Mouse! There is another aspect of monochrome pictures that seems to be lost in the digital age of the pixel: It used to be that half of the skill of a good photographic printer was the choice of paper: Glossy or mat finish, and, more importantly what grade of paper. As I recall 5 was "Hard" going through to grade 1 "Soft." (Look at the slightly hard 'graininess' in that shot of Stacy, compared to the 'smoothness' in the others.) The result could give a tactile edginess to the picture: What you were holding seemed to have an input to what you were looking at. Looking at a 10"x17" picture on a screen is pretty amazing on quality, but it will never have the FEEL of a 10"x8" print. And who properly prints pictures these days: With more than 90% of the population carrying a 'camera' 24/7 and half of them obsessed with taking 'Selfies' there is not enough paper in the world! LOL. Good to see Thea: Shame there is only 3 of her sets :-(.

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