Artist Interviews

Sophie Tappeiner Talks Black and White

As Les Recontres d'Arles loses its colour this year, we quiz our art insider Sophie Tappeiner, on the position of Black and White photography in today's climate, her favourite Black and White artists and ultimately whether she thinks the festival's theme is effective or not.

By Charlotte Broomfield | 04 Aug 2013

Iain Maitland Horse Profile 1

Ian Maitland: Horse Profile 1

Photography: Colour vs. Black and White?

I feel as though the two, colour photography and black and white photography, are different means of expression. Choosing to shoot in black and white unveils a desire to work more closely with tone and scale, within ranges of grays only, whereas shooting in colour reflects a willingness to add an extra artistic element to more “accurately,” reproduce the image as your eye viewed it upon releasing the shutter.

Within black and white images, we are forced to pay more attention to the use of light and shadow - the two aesthetic elements of the composition responsible for making the objects within the frame pop and become three dimensional. However, in colour photographs, our eye is pulled not only by light and form, but first and foremost, directed by the colours that stand out against others. Our eye becomes drawn towards certain aspects of the image simply because they appear as more vibrant.  

Black and white photography tends to be stereotyped as being more “dramatic,” or “artistic,” because its processes reference history and we associate its images with a previous time period that in today's society, has now become romanticized. Additionally, colour photography associates itself with contemporary life as it was birthed far later than black and white, and therefore the images feel closer to “reality,” because of the way we see. Furthermore this is heightened by the fact that in every day life we are confronted with an influx of images (advertisements, magazines, billboards etc.) that are more often than not, produced in colour. 

Would you agree that Black and White died in the nineties?  

No. I would not agree. I don’t think that black and white has “died,” rather that there has been a decline in its use due to the over abundance of digital technology which makes the grueling processing of developing and printing black and white negatives less desirable. It’s much easier for the common person to use a colour disposable camera and have someone at a photography store develop it for them, or plug in their digital camera to their home computer with a USB chord.

The boom in colour technology and advancements in digital cameras directly correlate to the decline of the use of black and white. However, it’s still entirely possible to shoot and print in black and white, as many educational artistic institutions still emphasize its importance as a crucial means of understanding the photographic medium as a whole, and many artists continue to use it in their own work, advocating for its survival.

Do you think that 'Arles in Black' is effective?

Yes, because the images serve as a reminder of the power, expression and beauty able to be produced through the use of black and white photography.

What place does Black and White photography still hold today?

It serves as a reference to the medium’s invention and history, an indicator of how far the advancements in photography have come, it's a learning tool we can call upon to see the world in scales of gray, a way in which we can silence the noise of our colourful world and strip images down to their basic elements and finally depict essence accurately without giving a mirror reproduction of the scene. 

In three words, what does Black and White photography say to you?

Light, Scale, Form 

Who is your favourite Black and White photographer/artist?

Malick Sidibe.

Malick Sidibé: photographing post-colonial Mali

Malick Sidibe: Photgraphing post-colonial Mali

Favourite Black and White artist on Rise Art?

Beomsik Won as his work is very conceptual. In his Archisculpture series, Won really pushes the boundaries of photography, exploring themes of reality, perception and representation. Won's work also reflects the nature of London -  he's apt in capturing its social aspects, its cultural diversity and its rich history. I also think it will be interesting to see how this young artist develops.


Beomsik Won: Archisculpture 010

Henri Cartier Bresson or Ansel Adams?

Henri Cartier-Bresson, simply because of the way in which he was able to translate the humanistic energy of his subjects so vividly within his portraits. I prefer portraiture to landscape photography, so the decision was quite easy for me. 

Siphnos, Greece,1961

Henri Cartier-Bresson: Siphnos, Greece, 1961

Diane Arbus or Berenice Abbott?

Diane Arbus. Her vision was entirely unique and her choice of subjects was daring - creating uncomfortable, uncanny portraits of individuals deemed “deformed,” or “abnormal,” within society. Her strength as a photographer not only rested in her natural ability, but in the way she was able to connect with complete strangers and subtly, not loudly, inject her opinion into each of her portraits. You could spot a Diane Arbus print in an instant against 100 other photographers' images. Her work is that distinct.

Lady Bartender Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus: Lady Bartender

What kind of art/image/setting works best in Black and White?

Documentary photography, portraiture, events and scenes filled with people aid the medium best. I generally find colour to be a huge boost while representing landscape, nature or architecture. 

Ultimately, is Black and White making a come back?

Yes, because of the heightened interest in “vintage” processes within contemporary generations and the rising art education worldwide promoting its use. 


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