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Black and White Photography and Emotional Representation

Info: 8657 words (35 pages) Dissertation
Published: 22nd Dec 2021

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Tagged: ArtsPhotography


Chapter 1: Introduction 4

Chapter 2: The Photograph 4

2.1  The Function of a Photograph  5

2.2  Abstraction  5

2.3  Subliminal Perception  5

Chapter 3: Black & White Photography 4

3.1  Seeing in Black & White  5

3.2  The Art of Black & White Photography  5

Chapter 4: The Idea of Reality in Black & White Photographs 4

4.1  The Captured Moment  5

4.2  Memory and Association 5

Chapter 5: Black & White Photography in the Context of Evoking Emotion 4

5.1  In Photojournalism & Documentary Photography  5

5.1.1  Sebastião Salgado 5

5.2  In Advertising 5

5.2.1 Leica M Monochrom 5

Conclusion 4

Bibliography 4


Black and white was the beginning of photography that it is now considered as the tradition of the field. Despite that the advancing photographic technology had allowed colour to become more accessible overtime, many of the most iconic and influential images from the past are produced in black and white. Knowing that our eyes see the world in colour makes black and white occupies a unique place in the world of imaging and photography. However, in the context of present day where colour is now the new norm and the number of images produced are more than ever, some may argue that black and white is just another gimmick to attract attention or just one of the ways to make-up bad images. Yet, black and white is also deemed as a matter of creative choice, as a way for the photographer to convey their intended saying through the images. In fact, some photographers still choose to work only in black and white to this date. What is it then with black and white images and the impact they able to create? Many believe that black and white has its own emotional resonance – that it enables the viewer to look beyond the visual appearances of what is photographed.

The purpose of this paper is to examine and observe the emotional representation in black and white photography by analyzing the means of a photograph itself, seeing the world in black and white and what makes the beauty of it, as well as the use of black and white photography in various fields to evoke the viewer’s emotion. The data presented in the following chapters in this paper were gathered through secondary research and literature review from both online and offline resources.



A photograph is always of the past of what was seen, what happened or what was created in a particular moment or time. A photograph isolates a piece of the world and preserves it into a single image. A photograph can be a form of a memorial, a form of documentation, an evidence, a product of artistic expression, a component of a visual language, or a metaphorical demonstration of our thoughts and experiences (Jean, 2012).

According to Short (2011), photographs have the ability to portray a literal depiction of the visual appearances of something, someone or someplace. Some obvious instances of this would be ‘passport photographs, product shots, medical imaging (such as X-rays or MRI scans) and scene-of-crime photography’ (p. 10). In addition, photographs ‘can also be subjectively, conceptually and technically constructed’ (p. 10) in order to present a particular view or story. This way, photographs holds more value of a personal expression and thus interpretation may vary from one viewer to another. We use photographs as a source of knowledge to our own ancestry or personal history, as well as information about historical events of the world that otherwise only exist in our imagination. In spite of photographs are always of the past, they can remain relevant to the present, evoking a certain memory or feeling and stimulate our minds towards the future (Short, 2011).

Furthermore, Short (2011) added that the way we relate to photographs goes beyond its function of recording appearances, ‘photographs convey an aspect of the shared human experience and provide some form of tangible evidence or gateway to the existence of ourselves and others’ (p. 12). They also have the ability to convey insights of an individual’s personality. Photographs of literal depictions (i.e. X-rays and MRI scans) are originally produced for factual purposes, but putting them in the context of personal connection gives them a new meaning and ‘we may relate to them on a more emotional level’ (p. 12).


Flusser (2007) suggests that images signify what’s ‘out there’ in the context of space and time. They become understandable to us as abstractions, of which is the process of ‘reductions of the four dimensions of space and time to the two surface dimensions’ (p. 8). According to Shklovsky (as cited in Siegel 1997, p. 15) abstraction is one among many forms of representation and not a wholly new experience. However, images also have the ability to project back the abstracted surfaces out of space and time, or what we know as imagination. Imagination is the ability to put occurrences into two-dimensional symbols and to read on these symbols (Flusser, 2007). It is an act of forming a mental image of what’s not present to our senses or never before wholly recognized in reality (Merriam-Webster). Hence, in other words, abstraction leaves room for imagination that ensues new experience or outlook on reality.

Furthermore, Rosenthal (1996), as cited in Siegel (1997, p. 166) describes abstraction as emotional, liberatory, self-expressive, romantic, and ineffable. Abstraction captivates the emotions of the creator of an artwork. It draws on relation to spiritual aspects as opposed to the worldly affairs also demands us to step back and look with a more reflective thought. Given that, modern artists conceived abstraction as a concept of individual production and an exploration for unrestricted forms of communication (Rexer, 2009).

In photography, abstraction seeks to express a particular feeling, an idea, and or an aesthetic impact; to do so, it depends on ‘our visual perception, the primal sense of form, colour and lines’ (Kordic, 2016). Furthermore, Vanness (1997) adds that to abstract is to leave the rest in an entirety as the background, a sense of place, a core for new explorations without destruction. 


The word subliminal refers to what exists below our conscious perception, in which exist the stimuli received by our senses that are not strong enough to be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or felt during our conscious state. Subliminal perception implies that there is unconscious awareness, in which we can be affected by the stimuli that we do not experience consciously (Zakia, 2013). In other words, subliminal perception claims that it is possible for us to perceive something despite that we are not aware of any particular experience at all (Bird, 1972). Hence, the experiences we had are made of both our conscious and unconscious perceptions.

In addition, to make the term subliminal perception more relevant to photographers and image creators, Zakia (2013) suggests that subliminal perception not necessarily limited to physical stimuli below the threshold of perception but instead it can also include stimuli that are visible or audible although they are not unseen or unheard, considering that we often only see a small fragment of what we look at. There are three cases regarding this (Zakia, 2013). In the first case, someone must have seen something but they don’t realize that they have. In the second case, there could be reasons for saying that the invisible stimuli influence us in a similar way ‘to that in which we are influenced by something we see and realize that we see’ (p. 228). In the third and last case, we see and identify something under a certain description but we are unable to identify it to belong under another description.

Baldwin (1974) also identifies that subliminal stimuli also able to ‘influence memory, verbal behavior, dreams, and emotional responses’ (p.1). Photography itself, Zakia (2013) explains, is a variation of the need to discover things, to search for what is hidden and waiting to be discovered and eventually revealed in a form of photograph. That being said, a photograph is a form of stimuli that able to evoke a certain memory or emotional response to its viewer and creates an interpretation. 

Here one might object that representation is not, after all, an intrinsic property either of a painting or of a description. Representation is a relation; an object can be described as a representation only if one person uses it to represent something to another. On this vie, there is no such thing as “being a representation’; there is only ‘having a representational use.” P. 597,

What makes the image itself into the principal vehicle of representational thought? I wish to argue that an image can be deliberate without being properly articulate. The image becomes articulate when (a) the maker of the image can seriously address himself to the task of communicating thought through the image alone and (b) when the spectator can see and understand the image in terms of the process of thought which it expresses. To satisfy (a) we require a painterly approach to detail;  to satisfy by we must distract the spectator’s attention from the causal relation which is the distinguishing feature of photography. Either way, the persistence of that realtion – in other words, the persistence of the photographic image –can only hinder representation. (Scruton, 1981) p. 597



The divergence between black and white and colour lies in the fact that we don’t see the world in black and white. Black and white is a translation of our view of the world into a unique medium with special characteristic (Freeman, 2017). While the world of many colours are radiant and genial, black and white offers insights and visions of purified reality, or it allows photographers the freedom from the contradictory richness of full colour. It is a method towards emphasis and control (Ian Jeffrey, 1989, cited in Freeman, 2017, p. 40).

Allen Murabayashi (2014), a photographer as well as the chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter, a company that enables photographers to showcase, store, and make transaction images online suggests that black and white is merely a trick to attract attention. He explains that now (digital) photography has become omnipresent and converting colour images to black and white has never been easier. Both professional and amateur photographers can shoot in colour and determine later in post-production whether the final image will be in colour or black and white. Black and white is also considered as a trick to make up bad images. That being said, Murabayashi (2014) notes that converting colour images to black and white is a matter of self-importance, an act of making images to emerge as more significant than it would be in colour.

In contrast, Präkel (2009) suggests that photographs have to attract attention in order for them to be effective. Henri Cartier-Bresson, a renowned French photographer who has been named as the master of monochrome, as well as one of the founders of world’s most prestigious photography agency Magnum Photos states that he likes how black and white photography abstracts things. Additionally, Hall (2012) also observes that black and white photography not solely abstract things but as well as contextualizes everything in it. It positions imagery in a tonal separate space, of which the frontiers of perception are within the viewer’s imagination. The freed up imaginative process while looking at black and white images creates a room for new explorations for meaning to each different viewer. In between the brightest white and the darkest black, as well as different tones of greys, “the expression and treatment is almost infinitely variable”. Thus, an image can be interpreted in almost any way – be it “somber, bright, airy, rich, delicate, soft, harsh, contrasty” (Freeman, 2017, p. 34).

Likewise, Freeman (2017) points out black and white photography’s openness to interpretation. For instance, human eyes seeing a pitch-black sky in an afternoon sky is an impossible concept and yet while in a photograph the viewers accept the scene with ease and interpret it on an extended imaginative level. Präkel (2009) remarks that a “photograph succeed when they open up space for imagination” (p. 8). That being said, a black and white photograph’s power for the imaginative state leads to its capability to have a strong impact on its viewers.

In the words of Elliot Erwitt, a French-born American photographer who is best known for his ability to candidly capture irony, humor, and humanistic sensibility of the everyday life (magnumphotos.com), black and white is much more difficult to get right and it is what we encapsulate to get the essentials of an image. Erwitt worked with both colour and black and white, however, given the choice he’d rather stick to black and white most of the time (Freeman, 2017).

Working in black and white – even when it’s not the beginning of one’s contact with photography – offers a new look with a fresh perspective at everyday objects, events, and surroundings in general. With the absence of colour, there is less going on in a black and white image but that doesn’t make a black and white image worth any less, instead it offers more to explore. In other words, black and white images manifest the concept of less is more (Freeman, 2017).  According to Lyle (2009), the idea of minimalism and conceptual can’t be easily separated. When we see an image in black and white, with less going on in the image, the less information given to our eyes at the glance, resulting in the capability to construct the abstract ideas in our minds that make such unique interpretations.

To think and see in terms of light and shade, looking for form and texture, and aim to capture them in shades of grey.


The artistic power of black and white photographs lies in their nature of being representative and they don’t aim to replicate the look of the real world as it is (Prakel, 2009). Black and white represents different things that are beyond the appearance of the spectrum of colours. Black and white photographs is a pictorial rendition of both hope and despair to which mankind is prone to experience (Freeman, 2017). Prakel (2009) further explains that black and white has the implications of aesthetic that entails more effort to understand something more thoroughly and with intellectual rigour.

During 1960s, Garry Winogrand produced a number of pictures at a New York zoo. One of the pictures in particular was an image of the visitors taken in 1969. This image works on the viewers at that time on different levels. Zoos are part of most people’s childhood memories and that makes them highly familiar to us. They are a space of transition and in-between, a place of entertainment, spectacle, leisure, and learning. Viewers come to Winogrand’s image with their own memories with the thrill of spectacle, the interaction with the zoo animals, and their own childhood memories. His photographs don’t necessarily tell us about the zoo itself but about ourselves, and the memories we have (Val, 2012).

Photography upon its birth was compared to the functionality of painting in depicting reality into art. Photography is considered as a means of science and technology because of the technical aspects that shape how the camera works and create images. Photography then becomes a means of the arts once it is used as the medium of creativity and expression. Weighing in the argument of artistic value of photography, Steichen and Deneulin (2010) implies that true photography being artistically motivated, true photography ought to be able to seize the domain of the invisible and the concealed.

Black and white is an aesthetic born in the past and distinctive from the current prevailing existence of colour representation. Quoting the words of Roger Rosenblatt, a long-time TIME magazine essayist and a Harvard University graduate, black-and white “probes the inner life of things.” It provides the visual substance in a world commonly perceived as depthless (Grainger, 1999).

According to Freeman (2017), there’s some enigma to any art form that has potential to move other people and this makes the “underlying appeal of black and white ought to be difficult to describe” (p. 18). He further notes the four important reasons why black and white is a medium loved by many – that black and white transcends reality, it reduces, the expressive range it can belong to, and its legacy.

Looking from an artistic point of view, there is a widespread notion that black and white photography is a more artistic medium than colour (Dolić et al., 2010). It is possible that we think of black and white photography as more artistic due to psychological effect it has on the viewers. It was not only because photography was born in black and white but also because it offers a different look of the world, of which our own eyes are used to seeing.

Much can be implied by suggestion, but statement demands certainty… absolute certainty.

Black & white is admired for its simplicity: bold, graphic, and direct and is often used to reveal shape or form and to increase drama/expressive power. (Grivett, 2006)

When theorists squabble over the question, “What is ART, exactly?”, there is a great deal of disagreement, but most do agree that art involves a way of looking, leading toward appreciation or understanding. In other words, art gives us a different frame of reference and thereby changes our perception of reality. (p35-36, Mullen 1998)

p. 36 1998 Art can accomplish a change in perception by deliberately slanting reality, to not tell us what “is,” but “what is important.” Art can shed all the distracting trivia of the common day-to-day, and show us what matters. Not only can art simplify in order to show what matters, but it can also often show us things previously unseen; art shows us more. Art can open up aspects of the world previously unknown and bring to light ideas never previously considered.

p. 37 In this light, all photography, be it artistic, scientific or news/documentary, is an art form. Photography can change the way we look at the world.

Photography approaches art insofar as it is made or created with skill.

Photography can also be philosophically allied with art because it manipulates versions of reality in order to reveal truths.

Art persuades, in part, by evoking emotions and feelings. The emotional impact of art can influence and communicate just as effectively as spoken, elucidated ideas p. 39

p. 39-40 As Martin Redish argues, “an individual’s “mental’ processes cannot be limited to the receipt and digestion of cold, hard theories and facts, for there is also an emotional element that is uniquely human and that can be ‘developed’ by ’non-rational’ forms of communication.”62 For instance, advertisers practice a type of consumer persuasion when they use the emotional influence of art to generate positive feelings about their products.

p.41 This type of emotive persuasion can be stronger than any type of rational argument. There is nothing to argue against; either you feel the emotions or you do not. If the artist can effectively “push the right button,” to make an emotional argument that seems sincere and resonates within, the artist has won his case.

There is simply nothing to argue against; either the artwork resonates or it does not. Such “arguments” are unanswerable, and therefore extremely powerful.

This emotional influence of art carries over into the photographic realm p.42 The photographer Nancy Newhall, for instance, believed that “the power of the photograph springs from a deeper source than words – the same deep source as music.”

Documentary photography, for instance, deliberately uses the emotional power of images to persuade, and thereby improve, society.

The Kantian idea of the sublime appears at first glance to be the antithesis of Platonic beauty. “According to Kant,” Sheldon Nahmod argues, “while beauty is connected with form and thus with what is enclosed in boundaries, the sublime – which does not exist in nature but only in the mind – involves an experience of boundlessness, of formlessness.”128 An example of the Kantian sublime are the emotions one feels while trying to comprehend mathematical infinity – we realize the idea while simultaneously realizing we can never achieve it:

Beauty is achievable, pleasurable, and evokes feeling of peace and contentment.

The sublime, rather than the opposite of beauty, is instead a higher, less restful form of appreciation. Paul Crowther states, “Psychologically speaking, the feeling of sublimity is characteristically one of awe, or astonishment, or exhilaration, etc., rather than the restful contemplation we enjoy in relation to beauty.”130 Beauty is calm and surety; the feeling of truth found. The sublime is awe and exhilaration, but also a restless feeling of the need to achieve understanding. It is this feeling of restlessness which can propel a search for further truth.

The sublime is often connected to beauty, however. Kirk Pillow, in fact, argues that rather than being separate states of contemplation, beauty is a quality necessary in a work of art for the sublime to be accessed. Pillow believes that “beauty induces reflection,” and that “aesthetetic reflective judgement suspends the workaday activity of determinative judgement.” With one’s determinative judgement put aside, the imagination is set free, “awakening our interest in the supersensible.”132 In this view, beauty acts as a base from which the sublime is reached. Perhaps what motivates “a search after the beautiful,” or the true, is the sense of the sublime that follows from an appreciation of the beautiful.

P 83 the sublime is characterized by boundlessness and formlessness.

p.84 Abstractionists have taken Kant’s definition of the sublime as “absence of form” literally.


According to Swinnen and Deneulin (2010), photography is a unique medium for its successful attempt in “flirting with reality-bound emotions denounciation and sublimation” (p. 595) and on the account of its realism, photography is the most intrinsically surrealist medium of all the arts. While Sontag (2008) indicates that photography’s program of realism implies the belief that reality is hidden. And, being hidden, is something to be unveiled.

..traumatic character of the photograph: it testifies to the presence of someone by its very absence from us. The fragmentary character of someone by its very absence from us. The fragmentary character of the photography will always make us aware that something is missing or is incomplete. There is always an off-frame space that we have to imagine, one that Barthes defined as a blind are in relation to the function of the punctum that can prick and wound us. (Wigoder, 2006)

A photograph may provoke contemplative interest because the photographic frame presents the viewer with a number of possibilities – ways of taking an interest towards the subject as photographed. (Manley, p. 34).

Wearing’s photographs often enable us to ask questions about the way we relate meaning to an appearance: ‘It leaves a lot to the imagination, that’s what art should do. It leaves you something to go away with, something to think about. It doesn’t say: this is a story, completely, and this is my take on it.’75

75 Wearing, G. http://www.postmedia.net/999/wearing.htm (accessed 16/02/08)

To call an image representational, for Scruton, we must also be able to say that it holds some meaning that is autonomous from the object depicted. Scruton argues that the photograph like the mirror image, is causally related to the object it depicts. (Scruton, R. (!998), p. 139 

One such approach that elaborates on this idea we can attribute to the philosopher William King.

King gives an account of someone captivated by a photograph of the Notre Dame: ‘It isn’t that I don’t remember what it looks like. I do. It’s sitting here alone, lingering over details, I relive a pleasant May of wandering about the island, sunning along the river.’123 King argues that as well as taking an interest in the subject, we also engage with those memories and feelings attached to our interest in the subject. In this sense, one treats the subject itself as an abstraction; it does not stand for itself, but those emotions that I recall when looking at a photograph of the Notre Dame. It is this abstraction that King argues is sufficient for one to consider the photograph as an aesthetic representation; ‘The dominant interest here is not in knowing the appearance of the subject. One remembers that. The interest is in memories that are stirred, feelings that are evoked.’124 King does not contradict Scruton’s claim that the photograph is transparent to the subject. He claims that we recognise that a photograph is of the Notre Dame yet still take an aesthetic interest towards the picture. For King, the photograph provokes our aesthetic interest by appealing to emotions and meanings attached to our memory of the subject. (King, W 1992, 259)

Photographs, we might easily agree do hold the potential to stir our Memory manley 80


There is no contradiction here; indeed, the very notion of memories gradually fading away seems to be predicated on the idea that, to begin with , or under favorable circumstances, no such fading or distortion occurs—in other words, that, to begin with, memories are indeed like accurate, precise brain recordings (or traces) of our conscious experiences as they were initially registered in our phenomenological field, traces which, however, can with time become blurry and full of “noise,” much like old videotapes. But this is not how things really work. In fact, the activity of remembering is much more a process of construction or reconstruction than a process of archiving and retrieval. Apparently, just fragments of experiences are (imperfectly) stored in our brains, that is, our experiences in bits and pieces. Moreover, even these partial and fragmentary traces of our experiences are not direct copies of our perceptions, but are, like our perceptions themselves, indeed to an even greater degree, colored by other aspects of our subjectivity, such as our emotions, beliefs, fears, and desires. When memory as recollection occurs, then, what seems to happen is that, by recombining various interconnected mental elements, we arrive at a synthesis, which enters our conscious phenomenological field as “the memory” of such-and-such an event. The whole is greater than its parts. (Mellos, 2013, p. 331) 

The true content of a photograph derives from play with time and not form, thus makes it invisible (Jean, 2012).

Narrative forms are often configured from photographs in order to generate meanings that express the complexion of life. That being said, the viewer contributes to the narrative meanings, of which are thought of as inherent in the image.  This is equivalent to semantic profundity. Through critical evaluation, images can contain multi-levels of meaning. They can be regarded as metaphoric objects that enable us to comprehend and undergo one of a kind thing in terms of another – through metaphors reason and imagination come together (Jean, 2012).

Metaphor is defined as ‘a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else’ (Oxford Dictionary). In addition, a metaphor is based on analogies in which the aspects of multiple things are treated as one (Jean, 2012).

The categories and the entailments we create in the everyday life are imaginative. This implies that creative rationality is required to think metaphorically. As extensions of tangible and intangible experiences, both the internal world and external words are connected through photographic metaphors. On one hand, the tangible aspect of the compelling realism in a photograph builds toward truth to appearances and objectivity. While on the other hand, the intangible aspect in a photograph may invoke felt experience and subjectivity. When we look at photographs, we also look for meanings within it – we reckon photographs to be the metaphoric containers for such meanings (Jean, 2012).

Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes, both wrote two of the most important books on photography. Sontag’s On Photography is described by the author herself as ‘a progress of essays about the meaning and career of photographs.’ (Macmillan). Barthes’ Camera Lucida: Reflection on Photography is an inquiry to the nature and essence of photography and a eulogy to his late mother – the book is more intimate than it is theoretical (Grundberg, 1981). According to Sontag, there is a sense of age, historical distance, and aura that monochrome provides. She comments that colour seems to seal off the appearance or aura of the photograph. Similarly, Barthes comments on the parable of colour being more of a subsequent coating applied to the original truth of black and white. For both Sontag and Barthes, monochrome is an aesthetic of the authentic figured around a basic trait of pastness. Monochrome is suitable in this example for it renders a visual sense of remembrance. Greater conceptions of cultural memory support the use of black and white on a more general level of a different function in the creation of nostalgia for the present (Grainge, 1999).

Biologically everyone perceives images the same way. Visual sensory perception is based on the functions of the eye – light enters the eye, hits the cells of the retina, and the brain interprets the impulses of those optical cells into coherent, understandable forms. Differences in the perception of images arise from the cognitive aspect of perception – the interpretation of what those images mean. For instance, people from different cultures will often disagree about what they see, and even those in the same culture can often disagree about the meaning of what they see. For perceiving photographs we rely primarily on our sense of sight. Our eyes react to light, and everything we see depends on the qualities of the light as it reaches our eyes. The ecological theory of sensual perception, developed by Cornell University psychology professor James J. Gibson, is based on the lightdependency of images.16 Gibson’s theory posits that visual perception relies on the way light affects the appearance of objects, and slight changes in this “ambient optical array” result in different sensations of size and depth. (p. 16)

Because perception is not just the brain’s response to stimuli, but is also an interpretation based on memories and various cultural cues, it relies on signs to indicate certain meanings. (p.18)

The more signs someone recognizes, the more they can “read” into a Scene (p. 19) Mullen, 1998


There is little agreement on the definition of emotion (23), although attempts are made to resolve the confusing terminology (20). In the present study, we investigate the subjective feelings or “felt experience” of emotion as verbally expressed by the individual. “Emotional response” is defined as a response to some psychologically important event, real or imagined, past or anticipated. An “emotional response” exhibits valenced feelings occurring as reactions to self-relevant eventsP.36 LECEKNBY AND STOUT, 1986) Here it is argued that emotional response, or the “felt experience,” varies depending on the individual’s ability to make progressively self-relevant connections to the specific event, person or situation.

Based on the literature reviewed above, three levels of emotional response are delineated: “descriptive,” “empathic” and “experiential.” The three levels are determined by the degree to which the individual makes progressively self-relevant connections between the message and herself. The first level, “descriptive” emotional response, is most similar to “cognitive empathy.” The ability to recognize emotions expressed by others is essential to everyday life and helps us understand advertising content. Thus, in the role of spectator, the feelings of characters in the ad are transmitted to the individual as viewer. However, simple recognition does not mean that the viewer necessarily has experienced any emotion herself. Of more importance are the feelings with which the viewers respond to the commercial’s content. “Empathy” is defined as feeling the same emotion a character feels. In this case, the viewer responds to the commercial or scenes from the commercial from the standpoint of her independent affective life, or from her “self.” The individual can empathize, or feel with the character, but the experience generated is dependent upon the stimulus. “Empathic” emotional response is most similar to “affective empathy” identified in the social cognition literature. The third level of intensity of emotional response is called “experiential” emotion. This signifies a true “emotional response” exhibiting valenced feelings occurring as reactions to self-relevant events. These psychologically important events can be real or imagined, past or anticipated, depending upon the individual’s interpretation of the event as it relates to goals she holds at the time. Thus, an “experiential” emotional response is embraced by the self as selfrelevant and not identified with a particular character, action or scene in the commercial. It is a conscious, felt experience, most similar to “dispositional empathy” described above.

Many photographers remain to prefer what felt more tactful and more decorous black and white images (Sontag, 2008).

In comparison between a movie director and a still photographer, Berger (2013) explains that a movie director is able to manipulate time in the way that a painter is able to manipulate the convergence of the events one depicts, whereas a still photographer is unable to do the same. Instead, the decision a still photographer can take is concerning the moment one chooses to isolate. Nevertheless, this limitation gives photograph its unique power, that ‘what it shows invokes what is not shown’ (Berger, 2013, p. 26). To appreciate the truth of this, one can take a look at any photograph – one will find that the primary correlation is individually unique between what is present and what is absent to each photograph (Berger, 2013). Similarly, Lyle (2009) mentions that photography ‘involves a slippage between what is shown (or seen) and what is understood about what is seen’ (p. 16).

According to Berger (2013), the means or possibility of imagining a reality different from one’s own is what makes the essence of a photograph. A viewer’s perspective plays a massive role in determining how that person will react to a photograph he’s seeing. That being said, due to the individuality that we posses as human beings, each and every person has a different reality from one another and how one’s reality affects how one sees an evidence of reality other than one’s own. For instance, one could feel enlightened while looking at a calm photograph whereas another person could feel nothing instead.

In his web log, photographer Darjan Panic mentions that the use of black and white would be more effective when the photographer is seeking to portray dark emotions like loss and depression. On the other hand, he suggests that colour is a great choice when it comes to passionate emotions such as joy and enthusiasm (Berger, 2013).

Barbara Morgan (Lyle, 2009, p. 99) remarks that a photograph is not primarily a document of facts but rather a means of visual analogy that could bind more than one phenomena together and create a connection between the world of emotion (inner) and the world of materiality (outer).


According to Prakel (2009), the abstraction of black and white is visually comparable to saying, ‘let’s step back here and take a considered look at things’ (p. 52). That being said, putting these facets into a context of storytelling generates one of the most powerful photographic mediums that is photographic social documentary essay. Furthermore, he notes that a photojournalist is not inevitably the same as a documentary photographer. Elaborating the difference, he explains that a photojournalist summarize a story into a single powerful image while a documentary photographer take photographs of different images that are connected under the same theme.

The lack of colour information was considered as a disadvantage for many photographers as well as publications that used photographs, this was until colour film became practical and widely available. Only then by about the 1930s, black and white had become greatly accepted in documentary photography, which was led by news, as a normal representation of events and the world in general (Freeman, 2017). The truthfulness of black and white was unquestioned, it ‘remained normal in newsprint until offset colour became practical for dailies around the 1980s.’ (Freeman, 2017, p. 28)

The aim of documentary photography is to show things as they are – this is a loose concept to be put and open to various interpretations. Inherently, documentary photographers work with whatever was available to them in a present state, that they are always more concerned with the events happening in front of them, rather than a creative or deliberate handling of them (Freeman, 2017).

According to Michele Stephenson (Grainge, 1999, p. 386), TIME magazine’s former director of photography, black and white is used for documentary effect, to give a story with the qualities of introspection and poignancy. Furthermore, she suggests that the use of black and white can evoke certain moods, although inherently there are no certain subjects that present themselves to black and white. There is a sense of inconspicuousness and a sense of archival retrospection (Grainge, 1999).

p.42 mullen 1998 Before photography, events were chronicled through written accounts or through various forms of pictorial representation.

Photography enabled people to document significant events with more visual accuracy than any other medium. 42-43

Thus, documentary photography is more than just a recording device.

The film critic John Grierson, one of the founding fathers of documentary film, defined the medium as “the creative treatment of actuality.”66 Grierson believed that documentary could be an effective tool to provide cultural and educational enlightenment, and saw the chance to involve citizens in the social process as the primary function of the documentary medium. The term “documentary” came to mean a photographic format which appropriated photography’s association  with immediacy and truth, but which aimed at making sense of society through a specific type of representation.

The documentary photographers of the thirties and forties saw the documentary aesthetic as a balance between a type of social record and a work of art. As such, documentary photography seems to bridge the world between straight news photography and purely artistic photography. Documentarists often try to achieve a level of drama and sensitivity in their photographs on par with art, to combine straight news photographs with artistic methods to tell a compelling, emotional story.


There’s a very distinct contrast between the world’s actual condition and the interpretation of the world in publicity. This constantly becomes evident in colour magazines, which cope with news stories (Berger, 2008).

As reported by The Advertisers Weekly dated 3 March 1972, some publicity firms were deciding to use less brash and to use more sombre images instead, often in black and white rather than colour as they became aware of the commercial danger of the juxtapositions in news magazine (Berger, 2008).

According to Freeman (2017), editorial photographers were pushed to shift to colour as colour sold more magazines. In addition, ‘advertising, which filled pages on the same presses, followed immediately’ (p. 36).

Black and white has the archival aura to people, politics, cultures, and not to mention the potential for legitimation. In a news magazine like TIME, black and white helps configure subjects with a certain depth of historical meaning when the trait of its pastness is combined with a powerful journalistic instinct in order to make sense of what is going on in the world. Despite its trait of pastness, monochrome can function as an agent of visual historicism when it’s applied to the present (Grainge, 1999).

Black and white found a new niche in the field of commercial photography and certain forms of advertising, even sepia is making a come back. The commercial culture in which black and white images circulate cannot be separated from the popularity of it – it is a ‘look’, a marker of taste, and a stylistic trend (Grainge, 1999).

The most striking finding of this study is that a response in any of the three emotional response modes enhances favorable attitudes toward the ad and the brand, as well as purchase intentions

Respondents experiencing an emotional response (either descriptive, empathic or experiential), had significantly more-favorable attitudes toward the ad and the brand and indicated a higher likelihood to purchase than those exhibiting no emotional response.

P. 56, Stout & Leckenby,  1988

Respondents experiencing an emotional response (either descriptive, empathic or experiential), had significantly more-favorable attitudes toward the ad and the brand and indicated a higher likelihood to purchase than those exhibiting no emotional response.P.35 LECKENBY AND STOUT 1986


Back in the days, the magazine press could not understand the reason why Salgado had not taken any colour photos. Due to this, Salgado had turned to a newspaper to publish his photos. For Salgado, the basis of the choice of working in black and white is not only for the overall aesthetic but also together with the desire to work within the realm of the symbolic (Caujolle, 2006). Sassen (2011) observes that Salgado’s photography is heuristic – encouraging the viewers to learn, discover, and understand on their own while evaluating the possible answers, for his photography produces knowledge above the actual visual content in the photographs.

Struggles, sufferings, and humanities are the recurring themes in Salgado’s works. One of Salgado’s latest projects, Genesis, is an eight-year long journey on rediscovering the landscapes, seascapes, wildlife, and indigenous people that ‘have so far escaped the imprint of modern society’ (Taschen). Under these themes, Salgado’s works contains the a range of spaces that he considers as neither national nor global, but he rather thinks of as universal.

Bryan appleyard interview 2013

He also didn’t believe in the colours produced by film — “I never see this red in my life.” Colour itself was a kind of lie. “It was a huge exaggeration — when I saw my colour picture, I was much more interested in the colour than in the personality or dignity of the person. How can I go to a person and make them my story, and I don’t feel the story in my photographs? Of course, black and white is an abstraction, but from the brightest white to the darkest black what you have is greys, and these greys are what I had in my mind when I took the pictures.”

Dignity is the key word. Salgado uses monochrome to monumentalise his people and his places. It also emphasises his most characteristic stylistic effect — his use of all-over pattern to tie an image together. I point this out and he looks puzzled — he does not at first understand the word “pattern” — but then ecstatic.

“That is fabulous, you are the first one to tell me this, Bryan. I can link everything with pattern, I can tell my story… the world is pattern.”


The emphasis throughout is upon fundamental factors that affect the visual relationships between the scene, the photographer, the photograph, and the viewer of the finished picture. Relationship between artist, subject, and the medium Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death) quoted in Warburton, 1988. By itself, a photograph cannot deal with the unseen, the remote, the internal, the abstract. As an ‘objective’ slice of space-time, the photograph testifies that someone was there or something happened. Its testimony is powerful but it offers no opinions – no should-have-beens’ or ‘might-have-beens’.

A photograph is a material object that, as I tried to imply previously, is also a vehicle for memory, fantasy, desire, and defense; it is a very tangible part of external reality that also embodies internal mental states.3

These works of art endure because they capture aspects of our own experiences, perceptions, attitudes and intentions. If they did not fairly reflect our own lives, they probably would not last.

Photography speaks in an extremely powerful symbolic language, a language that derives power from its non-verbal, almost subconscious quality. Although news and documentary photographs are not formally considered “artistic” photographs, the best perform the same function as art: by choosing and selecting which aspects of reality to highlight and address, they do away with the trivia and chaff of the day-to-day, and show us in many ways how life may be led and understood.


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Photography is the method or practice of creating images by recording light on a light sensitive image sensor or light sensitive material such as photographic film. The word photography comes from the Greek for light, “photos”, and to write, “graphein”, meaning writing in light.

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