The commercialisation of a colour photographic process in the twentieth century could have sounded a death knell for black and white photography. Despite this, monochrome photography remains in place. From technical or financial constraint, black and white photography had acquired a firmly founded artistic bias by the middle of the century. Deemed elitist and backward-looking by some, for its defenders it represents a guarantee of graphic and artistic excellence, of poetry, of symbolic distancing, of universality. For them, it is Photography with a capital ‘P’. The Bibliothèque nationale de France is an important place for the collection of black and white photography. In the 1970s and ’80s, it accompanied the commitment of black and white photographers in the face of the intoxication with colour. Today, it supports the revival of monochrome photography and, especially, silver-based methods. The exhibition offers a resolutely formal introduction to these riches.
By comparing different periods, currents and techniques, it examines the works of 204 photographers from 36 countries from the perspective of their black and white production, freeing itself of any chronological constraint. By its profusion, it invites the observer to gain a sense of all the power and creative vivacity of black and white photography.
Artists whose work is featured include Nadar, Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï, Helmut Newton, Man Ray, Willy Ronnis, Robert Doisneau, Diane Arbus, Mario Giacomelli, Robert Frank, William Klein, Daido Moriyama, and Valérie Belin.
This exhibition is organised by Réunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais and Bibliothèque nationale de France.