A Crisis in Living Color

Everything was fine until about a month ago.  Up until then there were clearly defined categories, nice and neat, you see!  My WILDNESS landscape images were colorful and vibrant, hoping to inspire some to enjoy it for themselves.  Hey, if a few hire me along the way to help them capture the evasive light, great also.  As for my ARTifice galleries, my street and documentary images, well, those were all black and white.  Heck, just look at the banner on this webpage.  This way I could focus more on form and keep more discrete sections within the website.  As I hinted, I'm a category guy!  Besides any unhealthy compulsion I may have had, I suppose much of this drive was also established over the years by: One, my B&W film class in college, and two, just seeing so much great street photography in monochrome.  A lack of color seemed to me, and still does really, to be more old-school without as many modern trappings.  It's easier to hide some of the unavoidably distracting nonsense in the frame by converting it to black and white.  Boom!  Instant Vivian Maier, right?  Well not quite!

The most colorful thing in the world is black and white, it contains all colors and at the same time excludes all.
— Vikrmn, 10 Alone

So what happened a month ago.  I took a street photography workshop in L.A. with Eric Kim.  The ripple effects are like the wake of a warship!  Thus I have changes on the site.  It's been tough and very time consuming.  That is, I've gone through my really large image library and have duplicated all the relevant images (virtual copies in Lightroom).  Then I applied a color conversion that I like for the image, and finally, chose which I preferred between the color and monochrome pics.  After having done so, then it is time to purge, and this is the process that'll be done soon.  It's hard to express why it's so hard to not share so many images, but I'm gonna take a stab at it.

  • First, and most obviously, we have an emotional connection to the image that we take.  As I have said elsewhere,
We remember the smell of the street when we snapped it, the mood we were in, and the people we were with.  This all plays in to our fondness for [our images], but not the viewer.

Not only that, but the fact that "I got up at 4AM to get that picture!" or "I grabbed that image while on such and such vacation."  Sentiments like this color our feelings about the worth of many things, but especially the art we produce.  Our frames become souvenirs of a trip rather than mere artistic or philosophical expression.

  • Secondly, for me at least, I have a varied interest in different types of images that I'd like to share.  Maybe it's a strike against me, or even a sign of weakness in my purpose here at W&A, but when it comes to street images I have not settled on a style.  In truth, much of what I decide to share may not be street photography at all, but more documentary in nature.  Take a photographer like Alex Webb, who is a new hero of mine artistically, who has a definite style.  I can probably describe several of his images with one sentence!  This is no slight.  It's only to say that he's not spread so thin in what he's trying to express.
  • Thirdly, and least obvious, is that when it comes to weaving a story via images, it's gonna take some time.  Really, I don't mean time at all, but rather, lots of pictures.  Take my Picture a City series: I'm trying to convey my experience of a few cities and, as of now, I do not feel that I can do that adequately with 12-15 images per city.  This is because my purpose is not only to showcase my best images from a theme, but to tell a story of a place with lots of things going on.  I've decided to stand by this idea, all the while purging a bit for pragmatic reasons.  That is to say, within a couple of weeks, the galleries will be a bit thinner, but still have more content than is advisable from even the best photographers out there.  For now, I just gotta do it.  Eric said to be opinionated and so, by golly, I'm gonna!

And so this leads me back to color.  The newly updated galleries will have color images interspersed throughout them.  What follows is a brief discussion as to why I made the change.

Black and white is abstract; color is not. Looking at a black and white photograph, you are already looking at a strange world.
— Joel Sternfeld

Let's start with the very first image where I saw the need for a color rendition. 

Let me say from the outset that this image was not a top pick of mine from the workshop, but there was something about it I liked.  I was shooting for a theme including use of kids and layers, and this approximated that desire.  Anyhow, I felt that my default monochrome schtick was much too busy for the above image.  The little guy on the right gets a bit lost, having the same tonality of the wall.  On a whim I converted back to color with a preset I made, and I arrived at the following.

Now, while the image is far from where it needs to be, the obstacle mentioned is removed without any cost.  Not to mention that this is how we all experience Betty Boop anyhow, which may have a psychological advantage when viewing. 

But as stated, this was just the beginning!  Below are images that I do like as black and white, but I couldn't resist the power of color.  I'll put it like this: the subject sometimes demands color.  Post-processing aides the artist speak to the viewer, sometimes even in a propagandist fashion, and this highlights the subjectivity that is often inherent in the whole pictorial endeavor.  But, there's a power in the color-blocks and patterns out there, in things,  that simply fall short if it was seen in monochrome.  To share an exaggerated case, check out the images immediately below.  The one on the right is simply desaturated, and so you can see the profound effect color can have.  To be clear, I understand that when one converts to B&W, you do not simply desaturate.  Black and white color filters are applied, sliders adjusted, and all that jazz! 

So as I mentioned here are a few more images that I do not think lived up to their full potential in black and white.  These were the beginning of the end of the monochrome monopoly of my urban photo market.

I hope it's clear what I'm saying here.  For me, I like the images on the left, but they fall short of the images on the right, and it's due to the enhancement that color adds.  Or rather, it's because of what desaturation subtracts.  The one almost-exception is the last pair of images.  I like the crispness of the image on the left, almost to the point of rolling with black and white as the final presentation.  But it lacks the degree of invitation to interpretation that the image does on the right.  For example, what colors do you see?  You said it, red, white, and blue...Ol' Glory.  Thus, one is freer to speculate as to whether or not there's a political statement in there or what have you.  You feel me?!

I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their [photographs], but by the content of their [photographs].
— MLK Shamelessly Altered