Xerjoff Magazine

Black and white emotions


An exhibition entitled “Noir et blanc, une esthétique de la photographie” that can be visited on the website of Grand Palais in Paris highlights the great expressive qualities of black and white photography.

The programming of exhibitions, and of culture in general, is undergoing more rapid changes than ever before. That is also the case of “Noir et blanc, une esthétique de la photographie”, exhibition postponed more than once and now virtually visitable exclusively on the website of Grand Palais in Paris (grandpalais.fr), the museum where it was supposed to take place. In a time like ours where colour dominates, this exhibition aims to be a homage to the expressive power of black and white photography. 300 images are exhibited coming from the extraordinary BnF (Bibliothèque nationale de France) collection made by over 200 artists with 36 different nationalities.

Covering a wide range of time going from the beginnings of photography to the present day, “Noir et blanc” showcases the works of some great masters who made the history of photography such as Nadar, Man Ray, Ansel Adams, Willy Ronis, Helmut Newton, Diane Arbus, Mario Giacomelli, Robert Franck, William Klein, Daido Moriyama, Valérie Belin, Brassaï and Cartier Bresson. But what is the story of black and white photography and what is the meaning it still expresses nowadays? It first appeared around 1880 proposing simple contrasts between black and white together with a range of greys, while before that time photographers used a palette ranging from sepia to deep blue. In photography black and white will dominate until 1970s despite the spread of colour. Although towards the middle of this decade colour has already started prevailing, black and white is still highly appreciated by many photographers. They use it for its ability to express, at an aesthetic level, both graphic and material qualities and to be the bearer of a universal, timeless or memorial dimension, unlike colour, which portrays instead the contemporary world. But leaving aside any economic or technical reasons, the persisting use of black and white can be explained by the fact that it ended up embodying the very essence of photography, that is, of “beautiful photography”.

Above: Robert Doisneau, “Le Baiser de l’hôtel de ville” (“Kiss by the hotel de villeè)”, 1950 © BnF – Département des Estampes et de la photographie © Robert Doisneau