It is the end of January, and New Year’s Resolution #1 (black & white January) draws to an end.
I have to accept that things are not always black and white. Yes, there are shades of gray. But hey! There’s also COLOR
You see, colour is great because it provides all kinds of alternatives to the tedium and discipline of thinking things through, the humorless integrity of tones, the sober task of speaking through white to black, black to white. I’m never wowed by black and white, never stirred to outrage or soothed to melancholy.
Instead I’m reminded that it takes some honest effort to get to truth, or just getting to understand a bit better.
Now, sure, I know that’s bullshit too. Never has the world been black and white, no photographer has ever coaxed a colorless reality into a maquina-obscura (and while I’m at it, I vote we go back to this term, I mean don’t you just adore the villainous flavor of the phrase? A perfect counterweight to the stolid truth when you declare – bullshit! – go on, say it aloud, it’ll make you feel good!)
Still, though, the point is the honest effort obliged by black and white. Colour is a kazoo, a slide-whistle.
“But the old bullshit is probably still less dangerous than the exaggerations and omissions of the post-modern bullshitters serving narrow interests. Their battles for influence based on swayed opinion threaten to bury the struggle for truthful communication, perhaps even truthful understanding.”
(not my words, but I like ’em… click here for the full article)
With colour… well that’s all about the emotional ride, isn’t it? It’s in our language, even. Colours evoke feelings and pretend towards values. We see red, we live green, we feel blue… something like that. They’re like the victory brass and tremolo strings that spin us desperately along under whatever preposterous Hollywood offering comes next (think robots boxing). Colour lies.
So January has kicked my ass bit in that way.
I take that back. Not the thing about January kicking my ass, the part earlier where I said that colour lies. Consider Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944), son of Russian nobility, chemist, later exile, and clearly a snappy dresser. No bullshitter, he.
It’s the turn of the century – not this last one but the one before that… (and here I’d say “nudiustertian” if centuries were days).
We’re 50 years before kodachrome and its million moments, and there’s Sergei criss-crossing mother Russia, painstakingly laying the groundwork for astonishing colour images from carefully balanced overlays of red, green, and blue-filtered exposures of the same patient subjects… in Russian no less!
Good old Leo Tolstoy, whose epitaph might have something to do with all the gray occupying the space between War and Peace, was one such model, and Sergei triple-clicked and bestowed us with the only colour image of the novelist.
These are really nice images, and to my eyes, they don’t say bullshit. They say this took a lot of honest damned effort… (you’ll wanna click and visit that, it’s really good, and thanks to Toronto-based photographer, designer and photo-restorer Alex Gridenko for tipping us all off to this beautiful work and the modern technique that’s keeping it real!
But back to the spin.
I’m a junkie for colour and I’ll be the first to admit it. And while I’ve gradually learned to curb my tendency to tweak that saturation slider to the right, I’m still aware of the bullshit factor that goes on.
I’ll never be cured of it.
So here’s to the middle ground, where use of colour is an honest and genuine effort to communicate something that speaks to the content and does not detract from it. And hey we’re all human (except maybe Sergei and Leo) so we can all indulge in a little melodrama once in a while, can’t we?
Heck, I even liked the robot boxing film! Let’s just remember something along the way…
“There is nothing easier today than to step down into the trough and fight one-sided bullshit with other-sided bullshit… Bullshit is an agent of debilitation. The only viable response is to rise above it.”
In this blog I’ve quoted heavily from a Robert Gibson article in the Alternatives Journal. I invite you to have a look, it’s a good read.
BULLSHIT! …said the maquina obscura…