10 Essential Black-and-White Photographers You Might Have Missed


American photographer Ansel Adams is known for his striking black-and-white portraits of the American West. His time at Yosemite National Park, which he first visited in 1916 (not long after receiving his first Kodak Brownie box camera), was one of the most influential components of his work — and he made a pilgrimage there every year until his death. Few photographers have had an influence over the art form as Adams, including his subject matter, technique, and views on photography. In honor of Adams’ birthday this week, we’re looking at the work of black-and-white photographers you might have missed — and reading their words about the nature of their work.

Venetian Vaporetto, 1960

Gianni Berengo Gardin

“I made a book on Venice called Venise des Saisons [1965], in French because it was published in Switzerland. They are photographs indirectly about Venice. They are more about the Venetians, the people who live there.”

“Be curious. Look at everything, read everything – photography books but novels too.”

“I try to photograph things that have disappeared — there are a few, though not many — or the ones that are about to disappear. I recently published a book of images on rice cultivation. In a few years farming techniques will have changed completely: researchers are developing ways to make rice grow in fields without water, like wheat. So in those photos I documented a kind of activity and a way of life that are destined to disappear. I’ve done this many times, for example when I photographed the Italian Gypsy communities, or with my photographic book on asylums [Morire di classe].”

El Morocco, 1955

Garry Winogrand

“Cameras always were seductive. And then a darkroom became available, and that’s when I stopped doing anything else.”

“I generally deal with something happening. So let’s say that what’s out there is a narrative. Often enough, the picture plays with the question of what actually is happening. Almost the way puns function. They call the meaning of things into question. You know, why do you laugh at a pun? Language is basic to all of our existences in this world. We depend on it. So a pun calls the meaning of a word into question, and it upsets us tremendously. We laugh because suddenly we find out we’re not going to get killed. I think a lot of things work that way with photographs.”

“The primary problem is to learn to be your own toughest critic. You have to pay attention to intelligent work, and to work at the same time. You see. I mean, you’ve got to bounce off better work. It’s a matter of working.”

Movie Theatre, Canton Palace, Ohio, 1980

Hiroshi Sugimoto

“Tools are very important. These are tools you can’t buy. I like getting my hands dirty, that’s what photography is about.”

“I live in the shadow . . . I like shadow, that’s why I became a black and white photographer. The quality of the shadow says something. And the quality of the shadow is something that I can control . . . the tonality of darkness to light. Black and white photography is the best medium to show this.”

“Art and religion have the same origin. Art first, or religion first? Maybe consciousness first! Consciousness always comes with religious feeling and artistic identification. It’s the same origin. Art always helps religion; it became an inseparable phenomenon when human beings gained consciousness. Later, it separated to religion and art. I want to put it back together now, this artistic expression that contains religious feeling. I want to investigate: What was the origin? What’s happened in the human mind? Can we trace back the moment of the creation of human consciousness? And why did only humans gain consciousness, not other animals? So, evolution? I don’t know whether or not I can believe evolution. Maybe we wait for another 100,000 years and then apes get consciousness.”

Chicago, 1967

Lee Friedlander

“You’re at both ends of the camera, and you don’t know what’s happening. You can’t really see the moment of exposure. I like to see what I look like off balance. I do them when I can’t think of anything else to do. I enjoy being entangled with the material I’ve been working with.”

“It fascinates me that there is a variety of feeling about what I do. I’m not a premeditative photographer. I see a picture and I make it. If I had a chance, I’d be out shooting all the time. You don’t have to go looking for pictures. The material is generous. You go out and the pictures are staring at you.”

“Music is another big part of Friedlander’s life. For a while, in the fifties, he was a photographer for Atlantic Records, making portraits of the greats of blues and jazz for their album covers, and his book includes lyrics from the music he loves. Music is an integral part of any road trip, Friedlander’s included, as you can see from this hilarious video [unavailable to view]. Friedlander is as eccentric as the video suggests, and his photographs are different from any others I have seen. They establish him as a five-star photographer in the firmament of American pictures. In Japan he would be considered a living treasure.” —The New Yorker

Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite, 1974

Judy Dater

“For me — when I’m photographing people — male or female — nude or clothed — the thing that I’m most interested in when I pick somebody to photograph is the — I don’t know, the energy that they have. The kind of interesting, quirky stuff of who they are that they’re projecting and I’ve said this a million times. I really feel like a casting director and I’m looking for my cast of characters. Like I’d be casting for a movie. You don’t just have a movie with nothing but male actors or female actors. There’s usually both types and I think that who you end up picking or choosing is completely, utterly, totally pertinent to what you’re trying to say. And it’s like Fellini. I mean, he’s got a strong cast of characters. I really feel like it’s completely connected to film in a way. At least for me, that certain directors have a certain group of actors that they like to work with.”

“I’m looking for people with really interesting faces. That’s usually the first thing that’s attractive to me. Not their body. And maybe how they dress or how they carry themselves or their whole persona or what they’re projecting. And it can, I can see it in a man or a woman. And that’s the interest.”

Woman on Train, 1961

Roy DeCarava

“I try to find in the subject a resonance, and it’s more important for me to express my concerns about the subject rather than simply illustrate the subject — to go beyond likeness to express my feelings about it.”

“One of the things that got to me, was that I felt that black people were not being portrayed in a serious and in an artistic way.”

“It doesn’t have to be pretty to be true. But if it’s true it’s beautiful. Truth is beautiful. And so my whole work is about what amounts to a reverence for life itself.”

Black Panthers, 1968

Howard Bingham

“Forty years after Life magazine sent writer Gilbert Moore and photographer Howard Bingham to document and tell the story of the Black Panthers. The very secretive Panthers and their Minister of Information, Eldridge Cleaver would only allow Life to do the story if Bingham was the photographer. Bingham and Moore followed the Panthers for months from Oakland to New York to Los Angeles.” —Howard L. Bingham’s Black Panthers 1968

“Bingham describes himself as the “Forrest Gump of photojournalism” — frequently “popping up” at just the right time to document some of the greatest moments in American history.” —NPR

“Bingham recorded virtually every step Ali took: the meetings with Malcolm X; facing his military accusers; turning up on Sonny Liston’s doorstep in the middle of the night on a ‘Bear-hunting’ trip. ‘Of course,’ Bingham now concedes of the stunt, ‘Sonny knew we were coming all along.'” —The Independent

Charging Thunder, American Indian photograph from glass negative, ca. 1900

Gertrude Käsebier

“Käsebier’s photographs of the “Show Indians” led to the creation of what is arguably the most respected set of images produced during her career. The portraits were selectively, and infrequently, exhibited and reproduced in contemporary journals. While Käsebier received some of the highest prices in the nation for photographic work, she often gave away the Sioux portraits to those individuals expressing a genuine interest in and appreciation for Native American culture.” —Cody Studies

“While Käsebier was making a name for herself as an artist, she was also using her growing fame to influence other female photographers. She encouraged other women to take up photography as a career, saying, ‘I earnestly advise women of artistic tastes to train for the unworked field of modern photography. It seems to be especially adapted to them, and the few who have entered it are meeting a gratifying and profitable success.’ Many young women starting out in photography actually sought her out to learn and to be inspired.” —Faded & Blurred

“Best remembered for her soft-focus studies of mothers and children, Gertrude Kasebier (1852-1934) was hailed by fellow photo-secessionist Alfred Stieglitz as the leading portraitist of her day. Yet she was categorized as a “woman photographer,” and after she broke with Stieglitz in 1912 her reputation waned. . . . Unhappily married to a wealthy German businessman, Kasebier in one photograph likened matrimony to the muzzling of cattle. In addition to strong portraits of Mark Twain, Jacob Riis, Booker T. Washington, Robert Henri and Auguste Rodin, she shot baffling parables and hand-crafted impressionistic since she’s not member or Impressionist school scenes.” —Publishers Weekly

In the Wave, 1945

Ruth Bernhard

“I hadn’t realized there were photographers who were artists. I had always thought photography was photography, but photography was not art! I thought photography was only for fashion and the commercial world. When I met Edward, however, I realized photography could be damn serious. Meeting him gave me an entirely new attitude about what I was doing — what I could be doing!” —speaking of Edward Weston

“I am very deliberate. When I create a pose and there is something about it I don’t like I say ‘Let’s change it.’ So it isn’t that I have a lot of pictures to choose from. I am very stingy with film, maybe?”

“Light is my inspiration, my paint and brush. It is as vital as the model herself. Profoundly significant, it caresses the essential superlative curves and lines. Light I acknowledge as the energy upon which all life on this planet depends.”

Hottentot Venus, 1994

Renée Cox

“I wanted to be an independent filmmaker. I was always interested in the visual. But I had a baby boomer reaction and was into the immediate gratification of photography as opposed to film, which is a more laborious project. But I started making little films with an 8mm camera in fifth grade.”

“Being a black woman in a world dominated by upper middle class white men, did you feel personally that you had to push past any kind of barriers and if so, how did you do that? Especially considering the nature of your work, de-constructing racial and sexual stereotypes in a very in your face way. Your work can not be ignored.”

“I do feel an urgency, especially when we have tragedies like Trayvon Martin, whereby a young man was stereotyped for wearing a hoodie. I believe that [most] people have not really had access to the imagery that we create. However, people get a lot of exposure to images that we have no control over, going back to a Birth of a Nation — where we were represented as brutes, criminals and whores. If we don’t tell our stories, who will? The time is now to have a more inclusive role in the conceptual production of our images.” —when asked if she feels “an urgency to create images that tell a counter-narrative of Black people”