Blow photo: why monochrome images are anything but black and white

The latest edition of Blow photography magazine focuses on monochrome. Here’s a sneak preview, with a note from the magazine’s photo editor Monika Chmielarz

Monochrome holds an exalted position in photography. People declare they “prefer black and white” as if declaring themselves vegetarian or atheist. From where does this bias find its source?

Scientists would point to our nature. Looked at through Gestalten principles, monochrome simplifies and aids visual grouping. This was known in war when colour blind men were employed to more easily spot the enemy behind camouflage. What the brain understands, it prefers.

According to art academics, monochrome is a form of photography that appeals to the elite. In its abstract form, they find synchronicities with abstract knowledge, which they prize in their education. The academics point to monochrome as the choice of historical record, which also includes news and documentary. The absence of colour creates a sense of authority and authenticity. Monochrome generalises and conceptualises. Colour, on the other hand, is immediate and subjective.

With all that in mind, we are surprised to find in 2015 a movement in monochrome photography at odds with the academic line. Today monochrome treads that fine line between reality and fantasy. It is perceived as symbolic, inherently suggestive, and evocative. In the latest edition of Blow, we try to distil this spirit of change. Amongst the artists featured is Thomas Vandenberghe, who in his beautifully honest work searches for intimacy as a measure against his own life.


Piotr Zbierski embraces the degrading effect of monochrome to create a different perspective and new aesthetic. In Aida Silvestri's work we return to documentary photography where the artist employs monochrome to depict the journeys and experiences of Eritrean refugees into the UK, while trying to avoid gruesome or pitiful imagery. Katrin Koenning in her series Glow is without agenda and narrative, but completely engaging as she deals with the rare objects in life that take on a state of glow.

Blow Photo: issue 12 is out now. See