Why B&W?

What is it about black and white photography that people find attractive? After all, most of us see the world in color. Why do black and white exhibitions of photographers such as Ansel Adams and Graciela Iturbide, both of whom have exhibitions I have recently seen, draw such crowds?


Perhaps nostalgia plays a role for those who remember the days before color photography. I believe part of the attraction is that B&W photos present a more abstract version of reality, where the image is stripped down to the essentials of line and pattern, of light and darkness, where composition and form are not distracted by various colors competing for one’s attention. In B&W or monotone photography we can sense more of the essence of an image.


In the Bible the parables of Jesus are themselves pictures of human situations stripped down to their essentials: the good samaritan in a simple, yet profound, act of kindness; the good shepherd caring for his sheep; the prodigal son and the father who is the personification of forgiveness and inclusion; the lamp placed where all can see it. These parables present the essence of what it means to be a Christian.


For a photograph to have an effect on me, I must give it some degree of contemplation. I must be present to the image in some way and relate it to my own experience. This is similar to how the parables speak their message. It all begins with my openness to the experience described, contemplating it, and relating it to my own life, and in doing so, my life is enriched, and the Reign of God is promoted.


“With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it.” (Mark 4:33)


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