Working with issues like abandonment, mental illness, erotica and poverty, these visionaries shut down black and white photography’s naysayers
In a world that is predominantly ruled by colour images – nowadays everyone is a photographer, and their solo exhibitions can be viewed on Instagram – it’s rare to come across artists who primarily work in black and white. Photography was born black and white, and some photographers choose to continue this tradition, while working on evolving the visual aesthetics of this raw art form.
Modern-day photographers like Daido Moriyama, Igor Posner, Miron Zownir and Eamonn Doyle use abstraction and graphical means to get their messages across. These visionaries document issues like abandonment, mental illness, erotica and poverty. Their work obliterates the false preconception that black and white photography is outdated and less expressive.
Historically, quintessential names like Diane Arbus, who documented the lives of the misfits of New York in the mid-1900s, and Robert Frank, whose book The Americans portraying post-war America has become one of the most iconic black and white street photography collections ever, continue to be some of the most celebrated photographers. Their use of extensive methods to convey their artistic visions and emotions with the help of contrast, texture and graphic composition successfully highlighted the challenges their subjects faced – a tradition continued by current photographers.
In honour of this timeless art form and in celebration of contemporary black and white photography we have picked out our ten favourite photographers from MONO: Volume Two – published by Gomma Books – a tome that has amalgamated the work of old-favourites along with new talent.
Veteran Japanese avant-garde photographer Daido Moriyama became known for capturing the post-war breakdown of traditional Japanese values. His grainy, blurred and distorted photographs now capture everyday life and objects in a way that is both beautiful and grotesque. Documenting his surroundings, his artistic vision spans from cropped urban landscapes to picturing the ‘stranger’ in the city. Discarded cigarette butts, tyres and shoes are portrayed in a uniquely realistic way. Moriyama’s world is one of fragmentation and dream-like existence, where the urban and rural sometimes blur into one.
The Belgian photographer creates an enclosed and isolated world that is made up of blacks, whites and greys. Braeckman’s abstract vision captures haunted, isolated and imposing industrial buildings – so dark that the picture can’t be clearly deciphered – that are reduced to a dark outline. These echoing warehouses seem shrouded in illusion and the sense that time’s standing still is inescapable. Capturing seemingly unimportant objects and places, Braeckman’s work moves between abstraction and representation – making it hard to tell if the images are paintings or photographs.
In his on-going project Butterflies, Typaldos highlights the issues of the socially created traumas and stigmatisations of mental illness. His subjects are the vulnerable men and women in run-down psychiatric institutions in Ghana and Kosovo. The confrontational series shows the fragile subjects in clear close-ups, bringing their plight to the forefront and making it impossible to look away.
Russian-born Posner’s series No Such Records and On Second Thoughts are an exploration into the personal and psychological. No Such Records captures the solitude of roaming the LA and Tijuana streets by night – bars, night shelter hotels and shadowy figures fade away in the grainy, distorted photographs. On Second Thoughts centres on capturing St Petersburg’s psyche through afterthought and memory – and explores how these become twisted with time.
Up-and-coming Japanese photographer, Tonomura works in both monochrome and colour. Her sequel series They Called Me Yukari captures her subjects in a darkly erotic, mysterious way. The images show blurry figures groping in the shadows, entangled and bursting with sexual energy. Her debut collection Mama Love portrayed her mother in bed with a lover, the images showing an obscure lover and focusing distinctly on Tonomura’s mother – this is her way of exploring her immediate family and their relationships.
CAIMI AND PICCINNI
Jean-Marc Caimi and Valentina Piccinni are a French and Italian photographer duo who focus on documentary and also personal, intimate photography. Their monochrome projects are Forcella – an extensive work covering the mafia-ridden part of town in Naples and Same Tense – a stream of consciousness project, exploring time and living in the moment, free of memories. Their high impact black and white images of the apparently meaningless everyday, fuse nature and human subjects in one.
Displayed alongside Jeffrey Silverthorne at Galerie VU’, Monduit’s Into My Song project is dramatic, powerful and striking. Her work “captures the invisible forces of childhood that resurfaces without warning.” Strange, intimate and intense, her photography is influenced by her theatrical background, capturing youth in abstract, erotic and blurry imagery. Relying on her instincts, Monduit’s work is produced with little forethought or planning.
Zownir’s subjects are the lost, the forgotten and the misfits. Spending nine years of his life capturing the hidden subcultures of New York and documenting sex workers, drug addicts and the everyday New Yorker in black and white, his fuel was the sexual and creative energy of the city. In 1995 when travelling to Moscow, he documented the homeless crisis in the city – a public tragedy he felt couldn’t be ignored. Zownir’s work captures the subjects in specific moments in time – through highly visual and often heartbreakingly dark images.
Doyle’s take on Dublin is shown through his anonymous portraits of people on the city’s streets. The unposed subjects’ world-weary expressions and windswept appearances are portrayed in a grotesque way, the struggles of city-life revealed in these guerrilla-style images. The three dimensionality and curious nature of the photographs make the subjects look like they are in constant motion. With Dublin as the backdrop, a glaring light, making each shot theatrical and dramatic, illuminates the images.
Black’s projects portray issues like migration, farming, poverty and the environment in his native rural California and in southern Mexico. The bleak reality of humanity’s battle with nature – the sun’s heat and the suffocating dust can almost be felt through the photographs. Black captures the changes effecting the overpopulated Earth, like violence, draught, mountain erosion and deforestation.