Saturday, July 14, 2012

Color in monochrome photos

This is a photo I shot in Taipei's international airport last October. It's not very colorful except for the country's mostly red flags. I don't think this shot would work in B&W, but I also don't think it would work if the rest of the shot (apart from the flags) had been colorful. The flags "pop" because the surroundings do not.

Canon G11, hand held, ambient light; photo here is greatly reduced from the hi-rez original.

Here's another example, from Bali last year, taken at Pura (temple) Gading Wali. You could shoot this in monochrome as far as the plants in the foreground are concerned, but the scarf on the statue really needs to be in color.

Same camera, with an Olympus 1.7x telephoto lens mated to the Canon with a Lensmate adapter. Photo again greatly reduced from the original.

But this shot of a fabric store in Ubud, Bali, obviously needs to be in full color, while this

, of a beach near the aforementioned temple, should be close to monochrome for the best effect.


Elsewhere I was discussing the idea of an image of Jackie Evancho in B&W with her blue eyes in color, perhaps for a poster or a T shirt.

Someone else pointed out that the bit of color in a B&W image was a cliché no real photographer would use.

I said this:

re: clichés

In every kind of artistic endeavor, acquiring good taste is great--pretty essential, really. And part of that is of course realizing what bad taste is in that field, and part of bad taste is the cliché. 

But acquiring good taste is a stage, not the end point, though it is the end point for most who acquire it. "Good taste" basically means not making mistakes. Products in good taste are pleasing, competent, are rarely offend. 

They also rarely transcend either, though.

Shakespeare saw Hamlet before he (re)wrote it. It was a popular play of the day, but when Shakespeare saw it he thought he could do it better. He was write (so to speak). The plot was clichéd, but Shakespeare's execution and brilliance with the language made his version a classic and the predecessor a footnote.

If you want to see photography's clichés go to an Ikea store and look at the photographic prints there. 

If you look at them--and they'll probably include a B&W print with a bit o' color somewhere--you should see that those clichéd images are there because they tap into something in us. Humans love lush greenery and fresh water, baby animals with big eyes, etc.

Those things are both clichés and things we're hardwired to respond to. 

They aren't clichés because of the subject matter or use of a particular technique, but because they're executed in a routine, un-brilliant manner. It's like the difference between a crummy movie about a pretty girl dying of cancer and a brilliant movie about a pretty girl dying of cancer. 

Execution. Execution trumps everything. E.E. Cummings once wrote a poem that he built out of the verbal clichés of the day. It was brilliant.

But the cynosure of making humdrum done-to-death material glow in the dark is...Jacqueline Marie Evancho.

Look at all the songs she's done that have been beaten to death and then the dead thing beaten with abalone pounders until it was a paper-thin pulp.

Yet when she does them it's as if we'd never heard them sung before. That goopy song from Pinoccho, When you wish upon a star. Impossible dream. Danny boy. Jackie is living proof that the true artist knows what clichés are but doesn't keep him from using them IF done right.

Because nothing--absolutely nothing--becomes a cliché in the first place unless it's something many people respond to. They're a part of the artist's toolkit. They're a dangerous part because using them means you're going where darn near everyone has gone before. But real artists don't let that stop them under the right circumstances. 

Bottom line is that like so many things, even good taste should be used in moderation...