Black and white photography

The history of black and white photography is essentially a significant part of the entire story of photography. It is the story of a relatively new technology that began a about 170 years ago in Europe. The actual process of a projected image appearing inside a light tight box has existed much longer. The problem being that there was no means to fix the image for any length of time, until two Frenchmen collaborated and succeeded in fixing the image so that it could be viewed by others.

From the earliest inception of photography, the black and white image has endured up into the present even with digital photography being as popular as it is. The black and white image over the decades has proven itself as a stable long lasting product that digital imaging has yet to illustrate as time goes on.

The black and white legacy left by great photographic artists such as Yousuf Karsh from Ottawa, Canada and Ansel Adams from Carmel, California that I briefly spoke about in an earlier post, still inspires and encourages both amateur and professional photographers to work in black and white. Black and white photography is a unique art form with a strong lineage that still permeates the heart and minds of photographers, publishers and the artistic community as a whole.


Eliot Porter

Eliot Porter was born on the 6th of December 1901 and died on the 2nd of November 1990. He was an American photographer best known for his color photographs of nature.

Eliot credited his father, James Porter, with instilling in him a love for nature. He was an amateur photographer since childhood, Eliot found early inspiration photographing the birds on Maine’s Great Spruce Head Island owned by his family. He earned degrees in chemical engineering and medicine at Harvard college and university, and worked as a biochemical researcher at Harvard.

Some of his work:

Edward Weston

Edward was born on the 24th of March 1886 and died on the 1st of January 1958. He was an American Photographer and has been called “one of the most innovative and influential American photographers” and “one of the masters of 20th century photography”.

Over the course of his 40 year career Edward photographed an increasingly expansive set of subjects, including landscapes, still lifes, nudes, portraits, genre scenes and more. It is said that he developed a “quintessentially American, and specially Californian, approach to modern photography” because of his focus on the people and places of the American West. In 1937 Edward was the first photographer to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship, and over the next two years he produced nearly 1,400 negatives using his 8 × 10 view camera. Some of his most famous photographs were taken of the trees and rocks at Point Lobos, California, near where he lived for many years.

Some of his work:

Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams was born on the 20th of February 1902 and died on the 22nd of April 1984. he was an American photographer and environmentalist. He produced many black and white photographs which have been widely reproduced onto calendars, books, posters and the internet.

Ansel and a man called Fred Archer developed the zone system as a way to determine proper exposure and adjust the contrast of the final print. The resulting clarity and depth characterized his photographs. He primarily used large format cameras because the large film used with these cameras contributed to sharpness in his prints.

Between 1929 and 1942 Ansel’s work matured and he became more established in the industry. In the course of his career, the 1930s were a particularly productive and experimental time. He expanded his work, focusing on detailed close-ups as well as large forms from mountains to factories. His first book Taos Pueblo was published in 1930 In New Mexico.

Some of his work:


History of landscape photography

Photography was invented at a time when western cultures were exploring new lands. it was used as a medium for documenting the natural environment and usually included very small details.

Early landscape photography used the same principles used in landscape paintings. the landscape was only used simply as a backdrop for the main subject of the painting/photograph but over time artists such as John Constable and William Turner have started to romanticize the landscape and use it as the main subject of paintings.

Landscape photographs typically focus on the natural presence of a landscape but landscape photographs with man made features in are becoming more and more common.

Classical Landscapes:

Classical landscape paintings came about in the 17th century, they were inspired by classical anquity and made to illustrate an ideal landscape replica of Arcadia which is a legendary place in ancient Greece known for its quiet pastoral beauty.

During the 18th century Italy was considered to be a popular source of inspiration for landscape artists. France and England became the new centres of landscape art although the ideals of 17th-century Dutch and Italian landscapes including the classical model retained popularity.

Landscape masters through time:

The history of landscape photography is closely linked with the history of land exploration in the American West. Ever since photography came about photographers have explored wild lands for art. A lot has changed since then but there are still many similarities that remain between the first landscape photographers and the ones we have today. Though 50 years of work preceded him, Ansel Adams is the spiritual father of American landscape photography. Not only is he perhaps the most recognizable name in all of photography, but his work transcended art and science to make him an icon of popular culture as well.

“It’s rare to find a landscape photographer,” says Carr Clifton, “or any photographer who hasn’t been touched by Ansel Adams’ black-and-white work of the exquisite landscapes of the American West.”

Like Watkins and Muybridge before him, Adams made many famous photographs of Yosemite National Park. What set him apart was his work’s timeless quality. Technologically innovative and advanced enough to surpass much of the printing done today, Adams’ photography was simple enough to maintain a direct connection to the earliest pioneers of the medium.

As a teen, Adams came to nature before photography and ecology became a driving factor throughout his life. That conservationist thread still runs through landscape photography today and perhaps is stronger than ever. Adams’ exquisite black-and-white prints were only possible thanks to the photographer’s innovation of the Zone System, a technique for exposure and processing to provide the utmost control over every tone in an image. His technical curiosity, as reported by those who knew and worked with him, as well as a habit of reinterpreting prints on modern equipment throughout his career, inspires “what if” questions about how the master would work today.


John Blakemore

John Blakemore is a self-taught photographer, born in coventry in 1936. He discovered photography during national service with the Royal Air Force in the 1950’s. He’s an English photographer who has worked in documentary, still life and landscape and hand made books.

Since 2010 a large part of Blakemore’s archive has been held at the Library of Birmingham, in particular:

  • Early Documentary Portraits (1986-1988).
  • Landscape Photographs (1970-1981).
  • Still Life Photographs (1980-2004).
  • Tulipmania, Tulipa and other Tulip Studies (1980-2004).
  • The Luminous Garden (1998 – 2002), earlier expressive colour works (1965-68) and Polaroids (1980s).
  • Hand-made books and portfolios.
  • Portfolios: Z15 (30 x 30), Zelda Cheatle Gallery.
  • John Blakemore – Early Landscapes, Hoopers Gallery, 2004.
  • Work prints, writings, notebooks, preparatory books, letters, catalogues and ephemera.


His work in landscape photography.

“Nearly all of John’s work is based on the exploration of a theme or topic and worked out as a series of pictures over time. For instance his original work on the metaphoric use of wounds of trees accompanied the break up of his first marriage. Then, as he became more entranced by the landscape, he started to try to capture some of the elemental forces at work (initially inspired by the raw landscape of Wales) such as the wind, change, play, water, etc. Each of these themes would be explored in minutiae, working from the study of one trip to the plan for the next. Taking visual discoveries and expanding on them to see where they took him. It is these series of pictures that many find so fascinating.” – Tim Parkin

 John produces his landscape work in black and white which changes it from a generic photograph of a forest or a waterfall etc, to something more interesting it changes the mood of the setting from maybe a bright happy scenery to a much more gloomy one. but I don’t think it necessarily always changes it to a dark photo I think it can make the photograph look a lot more spiritual, which is what quite a few landscape artists and photographers try and portray through their work.