The persistence of black and white images, beyond the common availability of the photographic film that made these types of images so popular, and outside of widespread experience with art techniques such as charcoal drawing or black and white pen and ink raises question of their significance which are beyond the mostly closed chapters of photography and visual theory. Why and what is it about black and white?
Black and white images abstract. They are clearly representations and clearly theoretical in that they idealize and select from the available visual phenomenon. Black and White highlights contour, contrast and continua.
That is, it dramatizes by simplifying the contrast between objects and between subjects and their settings. It picks out the edges of things, or alternately it blurs them together in under- or over-exposure.
Black and white emphasizes shading over variation of colour. It shows up not only smooth gradations or continua, but form, solely on the basis of shades of gray.
Black and white emphasizes contrast based on light and dark which is biologically perceptible contrast rather than levels of colour saturation or the contrasts of colour theory which opposes certain colours as contras
ting, such as blue and orange.
(From Visual Culture Project) Rob Shields (University of Alberta)