As an artist who specializes in black and white photography, I’m always interested to hear why others choose to work in black and white.
The late movie and theater director Mike Nichols (1931-2014) was one of the greatest makers of films in American history. His work includes The Graduate, Carnal Knowledge, Catch-22, Silkwood, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. In the documentary Becoming Mike Nichols, he explained the importance of black and white as well as anyone I’ve ever heard. In 1966, Nichols had been successfully directing stage plays in New York, when he received his first Hollywood assignment to direct the film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a high-stakes production featuring major stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Nichols developed a vision of telling the story in black and white, setting up a battle with the studio, which wanted to release the film in color.
I’m paraphrasing, but Nichols said that when you see a film in black and white, you immediately understand that this is not life — it’s a representation of life. Black and white separates the story from reality. Black and white is less literal.
Nichols nailed the exact same reason that I prefer photography in black and white. I believe a black and white photograph immediately suggests that you are looking not at a subject, but rather at an artistic impression of a subject. Some of the reality is removed, and replaced, at least partially, by emotion. There’s so much room for interpretation and expression in black and white.
Thanks for reading!