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The Appeal of Monochrome Photography


Black and White Photography Captures the Soul.

“Monochrome photography captures the soul”:
This phrase is said to have been proposed by the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson in the 1930s.
Cartier-Bresson believed that monochrome photography could capture the essence and inner world of the subject, and expressed this by saying “Monochrome photography captures the soul.”
He referred to capturing the decisive moment as the “Decisive Moment,” and emphasized the importance of expressing such critical moments through monochrome.

My Origins in Monochrome Photography.

Cartier-Bresson’s words have become widely known in the photography world as succinctly expressing the unique expressiveness and charm of monochrome photography. I believe this phrase continues to reflect the creativity and philosophy of photographers who pursue monochrome expression. Encountering this phrase and the diverse works imbued with rich creativity by Cartier-Bresson has also become the origin of my photographic journey.

The Allure of Monochrome Photography

Capturing the beauty of light and shadow in a single tone

Monochrome photography is an artistic expression that uses a grayscale range instead of color. By capturing the beauty of light and shadow in a single tone, it can create a dramatic and timeless effect that impresses the viewer’s consciousness with the form, texture, and emotion of the subject.
In other words, by removing color, the essential elements of the scene can be brought into sharper focus and highlighted.

By adjusting the camera settings to vary the contrast and tone range, an impressive visual impact can be achieved by making the most of the dynamic range from pure white to pure black. Depending on the lighting and subject, monochrome can express nostalgia, mystery, elegance, and drama.

Capturing the inner world of the human being

Additionally, by accentuating the contrast, texture, form, and light of the subject, it is possible to capture the inner world of the human being.
By simplifying and abstracting reality or emphasizing certain aspects or emotions, the core of the complex reality can be conveyed.
In other words, monochrome photography requires the integrative imagination and ideas to bring together the essential elements of light, shadow, form, and texture, as color has been stripped away. The chemistry between these elements and one’s experience can create works that touch the hearts of people.

What I Aim to Express Through Monochrome Photography

Monochrome photography holds great potential as a medium for artistic expression, but what should I convey? I would like to consider this familiar theme next.

About Emotion and Interiority

The phrase “capturing the soul” suggests that monochrome photography has a unique ability to reveal the subject’s inner emotional life, feelings, and deeper psychological realities. Photographers can use this medium to depict more intimate and subtle aspects of the human experience.

This applies not only to human subjects but also when photographing buildings or urban corners. When photographing a memorable building or street corner with personal significance, the photographer would likely have a particular angle or time of day that they are drawn to, unlike when shooting an entirely unfamiliar structure. In this way, the photographer reflects their own life experiences through the captured building, transcending the flow of time.

Timeless Universality

I just used the phrase “transcending the flow of time.” By eliminating color, monochrome imagery can transcend specific times and places, even evoking a sense of timelessness that transcends eras. The common use of monochrome flashback sequences in film credits is an example of the effect of monochrome expression. The viewer can ruminate on the long story, connect with universal and archetypal elements, and have their emotions impressed more deeply in their mind.

Simplicity and Essence

Abstract Concept

Essentially, monochrome photography expresses reality through gradations of neutral gray tones. In other words, it is not a faithful reproduction of the world, but an abstract expressive technique that simplifies different colors into varying shades of the same color.

The key here is that by removing the clutter of color, the essence of the subject can be revealed. I have only recently begun to understand the meaning of capturing the essence of the subject.

Details and the Whole

It is important to focus on the basic form, texture, and overall structure to draw out the essence of the subject. However, one tends to get caught up in the elements of form, texture, and details. For example, the city is filled with concrete, glass, and many people – elements that may seem impersonal. But if you look closely, you’ll realize that every element in the infinite reality is filled with individuality. However, if you emphasize the details, you may lose sight of the clear overall picture. The outside world can surpass the chaos of the photographer’s inner world, revealing something far more abundant and dynamic.


How do we harmonize these conflicting elements of details and the whole, and simply present the essence? By subtraction from the component elements of reality, how do we assert the essence within the limited frame (viewfinder)? Simplification is the key to grasping the essence. This momentary act links to the “shutter click” as an instinctive yet calm judgment.
I believe it is necessary to discern whether the image will be effectively fixed by light and shadow, black and white.

The Courage of Subtraction

In an extremely close relationship, it may be possible to share the chaos inherent in each other’s inner worlds. But daily life sharing such chaos can easily become a burden. What I’m trying to say is that self-expressive photographic expression may attract passionate fans, but it becomes difficult to maintain long-term empathy. The viewer gets tired of the murky, autobiographical world. To put it bluntly, this becomes an additive world. The earlier mention of the accumulation of details can also be replaced by this term of addition.
For example, would I capture the wide landscape at sunset or the long shadow stretching at my feet?
From the perspective of light and shadow – monochrome expression, I would unhesitatingly point my lens at the latter.
The chaos of the inner world tends to fall into an additive mode of expression.
I should strive to clarify the subject as much as possible, sharpen the edges, and simply overlay with light and shadow. Perhaps learning from the surrealistic aesthetics seen in the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico could be the work of monochrome photography.


Artistry and Poetics

I have expressed several ideas about the essence of monochrome photography. Summarizing them, I hope that for me, monochrome photography is not just a means of documentation, but a medium for a more poetic and artistic exploration based on human experience.

In general, the aesthetics of monochrome go beyond just physical expression. It seems particularly suited to conveying the quality of the human eye that experiences emotion. Through the aesthetics of monochrome, photographers can ponder the nature of the human eye and evoke deeper truths.


Subway Exit.Yokohama
9,July 2024
📷LUMIX-DC-S1 + LUMIX-S-PRO, 1:1.4/50mm, SS:1/125,f5.6,ISO:5000
sky garden – Ikejiriohashi
大桟橋 ウッドデッキ