Black and White Photography


Why do B&W photographs have a certain appeal to them?

Answer by: Zahra Amiruddin, Photographer, Writer, and Educator

Black and white vs colour has been a longstanding debate since colour film became available. But like with any art, perception and subjectiveness always has a part to play. Would Rebecca Norris Webb’s yellow curtains look as dreamy in black and white? Would Sarker Protick’s silver and black-and-white prints look as astronomical in colour? I think it’s to do with the vision the photographer intends to communicate. Real or surreal, photojournalistic or abstract, poetry or prose.

Sea, Space. This image made a realistic scene into something I was imagining. Almost like a collective stream of consciousness. Photograph/Zahra Amiruddin

Personally, I would still like to see myself as somebody who can dabble in both, and I do, on occasion. But it’s the softness of a monochromatic frame that bodes well with my rather abstract ways of seeing. This photograph always comes to mind when I think about ‘why’ black and white. Sea, Space, as I like to call it, was made on my birthday in Pondicherry, last year. The sea anemone, washed-up onshore, made me think of a luminous moon, and its many phases. As I photographed the blue water enveloping the white and purple sea anemone, space ceased to exist, and the scene felt all too literal.

I chose to experiment with black and white. Suddenly, the grains of sand transformed into countless stars, the tiny creature took on the form of a celestial orb, and the froth of the sea felt more ethereal. In this case, monochrome allowed me to make a portrait of two of my favourite things, in a singular frame—Sea and space. I think that might be the appeal of B&W—cutting down the noise in an otherwise noisy world. Leaving doors open for our imagination, devoid of colour, and still full of life.

This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Better Photography.