Consider the glories of classic Hollywood in black-and-white.
I'm going out on a limb to say the the greatest lighting and photography in the history of motion pictures was put on film before the advent of color. Look at the picture of Alan Ladd above. Not only is it brilliantly lighted, composed, and shot, but it also tells you every single thing you'd need to know if you're trying to decide whether to see that movie.
To find color motion pictures that compete in terms of image quality, you really have to ransack the catalogue. David Lean's movies, especially "Lawrence of Arabia" (but that's no better pictorially than his "Great Expectations" in black-and-white), Rueben Mamoulian's musicals, and (obviously) a bunch of others.
Gloria "We had faces then" Swanson in "Queen Kelly"
The same held for portraits. What mattered was the picture, not the importance of the subject. Anna May Wong, the first major Asian-American film actress, was never really a star. But the most creative still photographers of the 1920s could not stop pointing their cameras at her, and I think you could argue that she was one of the best-photographed of them all.
Look at the composition, look at the light. I mean, come on.
Why was black and white so great? I think it's mostly because they didn't have color.
Max Reinhhardt's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
I don't mean that in a flip way. What they had to draw the eye, identify the star, set the mood, and hold the audience were light, shadow, and movement. In color you have a million variables, whole color themes, hues with emotional value, color contrasts that make it impossible to look at anything other than what the colors say.
In black and white, they had light, shadow, and movement. At the beginning, they didn't even have dialogue. From the '20s into the mid-'40s, every film had directors, lighting directors and camera operators who had worked in silents. They knew how many things a single shot had to do to be worth shooting; it had to please the audience, tell them where to look, show them who was important, convey the mood, clarify relationships, further the story.
Is there anything important you don't know about the couple in this shot from "Citizen Kane"?
Orson Welles famously said that black and white was an historical accident--that if color had been invented first, we never would have bothered with black and white; it would have been too abstract. We only grew to like it because we were forced to get used to it--it was all we had.
But he went back to B&W over and over again. And I think there's something for artists of all kinds, writers included, to be drawn from the best of black and white. Every element in your picture/paragraph/poem has to pull its weight -- draw the eye, set the mood, show the reader where to focus, further the story. Every element.
As long as this piece is, I could do four more that are all pictures. I love these images.
Tim -- Sundays