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Black and white

"Not everything in black and white make sense." Advertising campaign.

Black and White is a broad adjectival term used to describe a number of forms of visual technology. Most forms of visual technology start out in black and white, then slowly evolve into color as technology progresses.

The term is sometimes used in a derogatory sense, with full-color being regarded as more desirable.

"Black and white" as a description is also something of a misnomer, for in addition to black and white most of these media included varying shades of grey. Further, the original stock of many early photographic and film formats were in sepia, which gave a richer more subtle shading than reproductions in plain black and white, although less so than color.

Some popular black and white media forms of the past include:

  • Movies and animated cartoons. While some color film processes (including hand coloring) were experimented with and in limited use from the earliest days of the motion picture, the switch from films almost always being in black & white to almost always being in color was a gradual process mostly taking place from the 1930s to the 1950s, with higher budget pictures being in color earlier.
  • Photography was black & white or shades of sepia[?]. Color photography was originally rare and expensive, and early on often less true to life. Color photography became much more common in middle of the 20th century.
  • Television was originally broadcast in black and white. Some color broadcasts began in the 1950s, with color becoming common in western industrialized nations by the start of the 1970s.
  • Newspapers which were black and white until the late 1970s (and still remain largely colorless)
  • Personal computers had largely black and white (or black and green) screens until the late 1980s

Today black and white media often has a "nostalgic," historic, or anarchronistic feel to it. Some modern film directors will occasionally shoot movies in black and white because they believe it captures their vision better. For example, the 1998 Woody Allen film Celebrity[?] was shot entirely in black and white. Other films, such as Pleasantville and The Wizard of Oz play with the concept of the black and white anachronism, using it to selectively portray scenes and characters who are either more outdated or dull than the characters and scenes shot in full-color.

In computing terminology black and white is often used to refer to an image consisting solely of black or white pixels; what would normally be called a black and white image is more accurately referred to in this context as grayscale or greyscale, ie an image containing shades of grey.


The phrase, "to see things in black and white" means to disregard the moral complexities of an issue and seek simplistic solutions.



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