Photography has come a long way since the french inventor, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, produced the first permanent image in 1826.  Back then, Niépce produced photographs on polished pewter plates.  His process produced a negative that could then be covered in ink and stamped onto paper, producing an image.  Many separate discoveries in the centuries leading up to this point had led to this phenomenon, just as, many discoveries after this point would lead up to 1925 when Leica introduced the first 35mm film camera.

Since 1925, photography has become a much more commercial process.  With the relative ease of producing black and white photos, many more people took up photography as a hobby, and then a profession.

Although there had been constant experiments into producing color photographs since the first color photograph had been printed by James Clerk Maxwell in 1861, black and white photography was the staple diet of almost all photographers for many decades.  All newspapers, magazines and other media outlets, printed their imagery in monochromatic color, that is, black and white or it’s derivatives like sepia.  Right up until around 1975-1980, when the color revolution really started to take off, everything was in black and white, and the images that weren’t, were not great color impressions anyway.

Today, everything is printed in color.  Newspapers have full color photographs throughout their pages.  Magazines are full of beautiful, glossy photos, and even television produces fantastic results in color.  So why do we still see so many black and white images around?  Why is it that so many people are drawn to the stark beauty of a black and white photograph?  Is it the simplicity? the nostalgia? the evenness of the tones? all of these combined?

Even though we now live in a fully color world, black and white photography holds on in our art as something that can’t be shaken.  It doesn’t seem to want to go away. People don’t want it to go away.  After so many years, indeed almost a century, of experimenting and trying to produce color photographs, photographers will now take all their images in color and then convert them into black and white.  Maybe after so many decades as the staple diet of photographers, we just got so used to looking at it that it has taken on a beauty all its own.

There is definitely something to be said of an art form (or anything for that matter) that, even though it has been superseded, still manages to go on stronger than ever. Photographers are still producing some of the best black and white photography ever to be imagined and there is still a huge demand for black and white prints of all subjects, from landscapes to portraits.

Black and white imagery isn’t going to die any time soon.  Just look at all the flickr groups dedicated to black and white photos.  I think that even in another hundred years, with all the new technology that will come out before then, black and white photography will still be going strong, people will still be creating brilliant black and white imagery, and others will still be framing it and placing it on the wall.  Because there is a stark beauty about it, a simplicity that can’t be conveyed in any color image.

Photography has come a long way since its humble beginnings, and a lot has changed, but black and white photography is holding in there.  It refuses to be pushed aside by technology and is even going stronger because of it.  We’ve said goodbye to pewter plates, 10 minute exposures for portraits, and large unmanageable cameras.  And now, as we say goodbye to 35mm film and darkrooms, we do it knowing that we’re keeping the best part of it all, and best of all, that it’s keeping up with us as we race forward into the digital age.

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