Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder were singing Ebony and Ivory in 1982, a song, metaphor, aligning the black and white keys of a piano keyboard with the theme of racial harmony, between blacks and whites. 2024, the Bibliotheque Nationale presents, at its marvelous François Mitterrand site, “Black and White: an Aesthetic of Photography”, a very large exhibit, entirely based on its own collection, celebrating the black, the white and the millions of nuances of grey in between, so characteristic of photography, from its origins in the 19th century to today. Most heavyweights are represented, from Henri Cartier-Bresson to Daido Moriyama through Félix Nadar, Robert Frank, William Klein, Willy Ronis and many more (200 of them), representing 37 countries and all streams of photography. A real full-bodied symphony with all the richness of the strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. By choice, the 300 photographs exhibited are not presented chronologically, but more by themes, with a mix of periods, from the 20th and 21st century. The viewer is thereby invited to focus more on the graphical contrasts and the play of light and shadows offered by black&white photography. whether it is with landscapes, portraits or details, we are exposed to the wide range of artistic creation throughout more than 100 years of photography. From the black and white imposed by the techniques available at the time to the conscious choice of representing the world in all the shades of grey between pure black and pure white. Not to forget, the first monochrom photographs presented, dating back to the late 19th century, were more blue or sepia than black& white. I was fascinated by the pictures of his children taken by Emile Zola and the portrait of a young Sarah Bernhardt by Félix Nadar. To finish the exhibit, a ribbon shows the richness of the shades of grey from lowkey to highkey, from almost black to almost white. Stunning to see those photographs side by side, ordered in that fashion.

Sarah Bernhardt, around 1884 © Félix Nadar
Without Title, from the series Erased, 2009 ©Bertrand Meunier
Funerals of Actor Danjuro, Tokyo, Japan, 1965 ©Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
Luxemburg Garden, 1957 ©Edouard Boubat, Agence Rapho
Saint-Etienne, 2005 ©Anders Petersen
Hall (from the series Métalopolis), 1964 ©Jean-Claude Gautrand – Saif
Window (from the cycle Constellations), 1977 ©Andreas Müller-Pohle
Canasta de Luz, 1989 ©Flor Garduño