White on White: A Photographic Top 10


White is the color of innocence, chastity, napkins and polar bears. It also happens to be one of the most difficult colors to photograph because it’s so easy to overexpose. I’ve recently noted that though I’m obsessed with the look of white-on-white in photography, somehow in my own four years of taking pictures I’ve failed to do a single shoot with this color concept. The realization led me to do some research. What follows is a top-10 list of my favorite white-on-white images, compiled as reference for a future photographic project and for you to enjoy. Feel free to post your own white-on-white finds in the comments.

Erwin Olaf is the Mac Daddy of white-on-white. The above image is from his notorious “Royal Blood” series, in which fashion models posed as stylized celebrities throughout history who met, or were connected to, violent death. The images include a blood-stained Jackie Kennedy, Princess Di with a tiara and a metallic Mercedes logo embedded into her flesh, Marie Antoinette holding her own head, Caeasar with a knife in his back, and others. Above is my favorite image from the series, Sissi of Bavaria.

She’s been mentioned before in a post on self-portraits, but who can’t get enough of Kimiko Yoshida? Above is a self-portrait from Yoshida’s ongoing series in which she photographs herself as different brides of the world from real/imaginary concrete/abstract cultures and times, from the bright yellow Pokemon Bride to the very serious Afghani Bride with a Bukhara Cap and everywhere in between. Lots of white-on-white images can be seen in her portfolio, especially in 2001-02 and 2003.

London-based photographer GMK creates a stunning white-on-white photo with rhinestones and what appear to be large grains of sugar. The thing that makes this photo so powdery and perfect is the way her arm, neck and hair fade out, like in old photographs. Usually I hate rhinestones, but here they work. A lot of what makes this work is in the subtle details, like white lower eyelashes. They look like some snowflakes fell on them and haven’t had time to melt yet.

Double-whammy! GMK strikes again. This photo of his beautiful wife Dominique has a lot of elements that are a little bit random, but work well together in the composition. Who doesn’t love ballet slippers and gramophones? As with many of these white-on-white pictures, there’s one small color element that ties it all together; in this case, it’s her black hair and the crow.

Okay, I know it’s not a photo, but I couldn’t make a white-on-white list without Dou. His images are so realistic, they might as well be considered photos anyway.

Out of all the photos on this list, this one by David Charles is my least favorite because there’s something cheesy about it. I can’t put my finger on what it is. Is it the hairstyle? Is the belly button photoshopped in a weird way? I don’t know. Still, it made it into my Top 10 and there’s much to love. It looks like she’s floating in some sort of strange, milky bath. It needs some floating white lotus flowers. Or some white rubber ducks.

In this fashion story by Gaelle Morand, a girl dies aboard a ship and gets transformed into a fabulous ghost. The above is my favorite image from that story, the rest of which can be seen on Gaelle’s site. The subtle gold in the background reflects the white nicely.

Mushrooms! Yum! In the image above, illustrator/photographer Stuntkid portrays his love Lizzie as The Mushroom Princess. Looking at this image makes me instantly hungry.

This image by student photographer Matthew Burgess is a fun nod to Erwin Olaf and a very pleasing image in its own right. Burgess describes the process of the photo as such: “I thought adding a little blood would give it something more. Then threw in some more blood for the sake of it!” What freaks me out about the second hyperlinked photo is how much it looks like menstrual blood. It’s those clots. I know, I just grossed everyone out. I, however, am still hungry for mushrooms.

Did I forget to number these in order of quality? I think so! Except for this last one. It always was, and always will be, Number One.

15 Responses to “White on White: A Photographic Top 10”

  1. VonLivid Says:

    Sorry about the repeating comment… post is below.

  2. VonLivid Says:

    I’ve been a huge fan of Clayton James Cubitt’s work which has been heavy with the gradients of white work…




    Can you see these images?

  3. Traumata Says:

    It’s odd because several of the photos you’ve posted here have been favorites of mine for a while and I’ve never made the white-on-white connection before. This post has also made me realise how much this concept influenced the look of my last performance (which unfortunately I don’t have any images from at the moment)
    The Gaelle ghost-girl is new to me and totally stunning.

  4. chlorinebeach Says:

    Well, I guess what culture you’re dealing with determines the meaning of white, because in India it’s the color for death.

    Still, I do agree, the style it evokes is quite lovely. Although Butoh is mostly white on black, I think that’s a fault of the staging. Some of it is white on white… uh… here! ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnR1FJ6yQq4 ) Yes? No? Am I grasping at straws here?

  5. lizzelizzel Says:

    Awww, you made me feel temporarily internet famous! Thanks!

  6. Erin Says:

    Alll of these are quite glorious…well, except the rhinestone one, but only because it feeds into my unnatural fear of things-in-clusters. *shudder*

    I especially love the Gaelle Morand one.

  7. lucylle Says:

    White on white is extremely difficult to photograph indeed. I did a couple of shots with that colour scheme and both were hell… though I love the lack of colour and the fake b&w of the monochrome.

    A couple of personal favourites (several of your top ten are featured in mine as well… white on white is for few, apparently!):



  8. Io Says:

    The white-on-white look has become a recent infatuation of mine. When done well, it’s simultaneously intense and ethereal. The examples you’ve shown are also among my favorites.

  9. Jessica Says:

    Hurrah! Olaf’s Sissi is my favorite…I nearly fainted dead away when I saw the Royal Blood series at ArtExpo years ago. mmmm-mmm!

    Nice addition VonLivid! Love his work.

    Another for the colllection…

    Patrizio Di Renzo

  10. kReEsTaL Says:

    Interesting post! White is even more fascinating when you realize it’s often use to focus on something weird, “abnormal” or even morbid in some pictures.

    Other white photographs seen on deviantART:

    The Removal



    Light as a Feather

    In case the pictures and links do not work… too bad! :)

  11. Io Says:

    More whiteness! Though I’m especially partial to the last shot….and the fantastic beauty of the subject, herself.

  12. Mer Says:

    LOVE Siege’s white/white work, particularly his ongoing series of portraits of albinism. So inspiring.

  13. Nadya Says:

    I don’t know *how* I forgot Siege. How could I forget this amazing portrait of Xeni Jardin?! Was I smoking crack? Here it is: the image that made make the connection, and realize that white-on-white is totally great!

    Thank you, everyone, for all the amazing images you found… I think I am going to make a “White on White” Part II post out of them, for everyone who missed these comments! Beautiful stuff.

  14. Matthew Burgess Says:

    A belated reply from me! Thanks for the feature. An image that was of great inspiration to me (apart from the obvious) was this:

    18 by ~NADIAwicker on deviantART

    I had to resists the urge to do something very similar to that because it’s just too awesome!!

  15. OHsamma Says:

    if you do a pt. 2, you HAVE to include some of Siege’s work – my absolute favorites were the ones he took of the model in a bath of milk. white on white, to say the least.