In Black & White:
The Power of the Monochrome Image

In Black & White: <br> The Power of the Monochrome Image

“Black and white are the colours of photography. To me, they symbolise the alternatives of hope and despair.” With these words, the late documentarian Robert Frank (1924-2019) muses on the poignancy of the monochrome image. Tones of light and shadow were the first palette for artists, following the invention of the camera obscura in 1826. Hundreds of years later, practitioners continue to revere this fundamental aspect of the medium for its simplicity and ability to convey the truth. Frank’s Trolley – New Orleans (1955) is a prime example, clearly drawing attention to the reality of racial segregation as the passengers face the lens. Today, image-makers still gravitate towards black and white, from Zanele Muholi’s reclamation of Blackness in the series Somnyama Ngonyama to Franki Raffles’ campaigns highlighting gendered violence to Flor Garduño’s ability to in flit between fact and fiction. Today, we are sharing with you five key shows this summer that highlight how contemporary photographers continue to explore this essential element.

Flor Garduño: Life Paths | Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes | Until 2 June

Life Paths offers a detailed retrospective and critical analysis of work from Mexican photographer Flor Garduño. This expansive show covers four decades of work refining a personal aesthetic around everyday life and objects. She pays rigorous attention to the practice of photography with carefully arranged monochromatic shots. Over 100 images are on display alongside 32 pieces of jewellery. Each piece has been curated to showcase the expressive force of an oeuvre that shifts between fiction and reality.

Zanele Muholi | Tate Modern | 6 June – 26 January 2025

Acclaimed visual activist Zanele Muholi presents their first solo exhibition of work in the UK with this self-titled exhibition at Tate Modern. There are more than 300 photographs on view spanning the breadth of the artist’s career, from early 2000s records of LGBTQIA+ life in South Africa to recent additions to their ongoing series Somnyama Ngonyama. In the latter project, Muholi turns the camera on themselves in a number of stylised monochromatic scenes exploring Eurocentricism, labour, racism and sexual politics.

Awoiska van der Molen: The Humanness of Our Lonely Selves | Huis Marseille | 22 June – 13 October

This summer, Huis Marseille exhibits new work by Dutch photographer Awoiska van der Molen. We see illuminated evening windows in this series of understated black and white photographs. They perfectly capture still and muted worlds with traces of human presence – from hanging laundry to potted plants. The artist states: “I do not photograph until all the static has disappeared and there is no longer any awareness of time. At the moment that you’re even no longer preoccupied with yourself. A point zero.”

C. Rose Smith: Talking Back to Power | Autograph | 13 June – 12 October

Talking Back to Power proposes a reclamation of Black visibility. In this powerful exhibition, photographer C. Rose Smith presents viewers with an evocative collection of black and white self-portraits that revolve around the white cotton shirt. It’s a commentary on how the crisp button-up, which has since become an emblem of respectability, is at the same time a relic of exploitation. Cotton was one of the most lucrative 19th century American commodities – wealth built with the forced labour of millions of enslaved Africans.

Franki Raffles: Photography, Activism, Campaign Works | BALTIC | 11 May – 17 November

This May, BALTIC opens the first ever major survey of work from feminist documentary photographer Franki Raffles. It shines a light on her extraordinary output between 1984 and 1994, where the photojournalist produced 40,000 images. This show brings together 300 prints showing how Raffles has used the camera “as a tool for change.” Viewers will see major projects, such as the topical Zero Tolerance campaign that confronted male violence against women in billboards and banners around Edinburgh.

Image Credits:

  1. Zanele Muholi Ntozakhe II, Parktown 2016 Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper 1000 x 720 mm Courtesy of the Artist and Yancey Richardson, New York © Zanele Muholi.
  2. Flor Garduño, n. 1957 Amanecer d’après Hopper, Italia, (2009) 90 x 120 cm Colección de la artista.
  3. Zanele Muholi Bona, Charlottesville 2015 Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper 800 x 506 mm Courtesy of the Artist and Yancey Richardson, New York © Zanele Muholi.
  4. Awoiska van der Molen, No 480-18, 2017/2024.
  5. C. Rose Smith, Untitled no. 55, Nottoway Plantation, White Castle, Louisiana, 2022. From the series Talking Back to Power. Courtesy the artist.
  6. © Franki Raffles Estate, all rights reserved.