Black and White Visual Media


The history of all visual media started as black and white. As time went by and technology improved they changed to color. However simple it seems, there are expectations and rules to be followed. From 1930 to 1960 the film industry gradually changed from black and white to color, which at fast included hand coloring. One factor that hindered the production of color film is that, although the technology was available (Technicolor) it was expensive and cumbersome. Black and white is also subtle as color as you can do so many things to it. People forget that it is not just about black and white, but also all the gradations of grey in between such as silver, beiges etc. One can say that glamour cinematography is defined by a color none other than black and white. It produced glamorous icons, which only require their last name to be introduced. These were stars like Bogart, Garbro, Dietrich, Bacall and others. In this paper I will describe two contemporary and two historical figure and theories that have influenced my work on silent black and white movies.

Charlie Chaplin

A figure that highly influenced my project. A comedy British actor, who was one of the biggest stars of the 20th century black and white silent film era. He elevated the industry in a great way, and quite famous with his character “The Tramp”. Charlie Chaplin was known for his bowler hat, mustache and a cane. With no sound and color, Charlie Chaplin still communicated effectively to his audience. Until today his films are still relevant and funny. His black and white films were not merely a movie that lacks color but a creation of art that had positive qualities in it. A lot of effects can be obtained from these films, such as precise images where every hair and grain can be clearly seen to a smudged charcoal effect. Charlie Chaplin made me see beyond the color and sound. There is a magical experience by exhibiting art with no sound and color. He made it look simple and less complex, but to the production team it was a significant task. Watching these films, challenged me and I am up to the task.

Monochromatic Cinematography

Monochromatic cinematography can clearly do things that color cannot do. Basically black and white pushed the film industry much forward than color would have. An example is when German expressionism, a psychological genre that did well after the first world war had notably abstract sets and high contrast lighting. Which became a step towards camera work becoming an art by its own. Where the filmmakers realized that due to lack of color, the human brain picked shapes within the frame and this made the image pick a life of its own. The genre went on to influence horror films in the 1930s and made a big impact on the Film Noir. Filmmakers came up with ways to separate and create texture as well as contrast and depth using light and shadows. It here that the producers learned that black and white is perfect for communicating the most basic elements in a story. Citizen Kane is still considered as one of the best movies of all times. Led by cinematographer Gregg Toland, whose work on the deep focus of the camera still holds up to today.  Film noir also helped in the projection of characters inner conflicts on the surrounding objects, favoring the dizzying diagonals and oblique lines over the horizontal lines. When the frame closes to itself it isolates areas and confines figures and objects.

Reality in Contemporary

Since 1960s very few films have been shot in black and white. Commercial, is the main reason as television stations cannot buy for telecasting if it is not in color. Very few directors will use black and white as an artistic platform. Mostly in modern films the use of black and white represents something nostalgic or even historic, however very few directors use black and white to create reality scenes or a reality of its own. The cinematography by its nature it is totally unreal, hence creating a new kind of reality which is filmic. As director Frank Darobont said “a black and white movie gives you a view of the world that really does not exist in reality”. Giving the black and white films their unique dream like quality. That is why it is unique in setting a unique atmosphere, inimitable tone and the interior of a characters landscape, how deep is their psyches and how are they descending into madness. Something else unique with black and white is that it can set the mood without bank breaking. Currently, big budgeted movies use black and white to achieve a certain degree of reality. Example is a documentary recalling historical pictures like in the The Elephant Man documentary. In the modern era, only Martin Scorsese has applied black and white fully understanding its possibilities in realism and surrealist. Some movies are short in black and white in the modern day and age to pay homage to earlier cinema genres. Example is Steve Martin’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) paying tribute to film noir.

Contemporary Silence

A film with no synchronized sound or recorded sound is a silent movie or film. In silent films the plot is usually conveyed by using title cards. Silence in film moves the viewer by emphasizing more on visual than verbal, “show and don’t tell concept”. Lighting techniques and camera angles are utilized to create an atmosphere relevant to the movie. A good example is the use of harsh lighting and shadows on the cameras to express and illustrate mental illness. Music as equally important as it helps in the creation of the atmosphere, hence understanding the story line. Confirming that “film music must supply what actors cannot say”. A good example of a modern silent film is The Shape of Water by Guillermo Del Toro. The film uses red and green to echo the two worlds echoing an underwater scene. Music used showed how the union was silent. The soundtrack proved that words are not necessary to create a connection between characters and the viewers. The actors relay their emotions through facial expressions and body movements without using words. Silence has been used in modern movies where there is sound. Silence in these movies is even seen as a character, especially in horror movies. All these attributes point that language is only secondary in a movie, the visuals are the deal.


Silence movie in black and white is a large and wide topic. These are where essentially the film industry started and since then a lot of inventions have been made. Charlie Chaplin, monochromatic cinematography, reality in contemporary and silent movies all have one thing in common, originality. These are some of the factors that influenced and captivated me to undertake this project.