the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

THE BLUE LION

The "natural" colors in the original of this shot were the "wrong" colors for what I wanted to say. So I changed them.

The “natural” colors in the original of this shot were the “wrong” colors for what I wanted to say. So I changed them.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

I CONDUCT TOURS FOR KINDERGARTEN STUDENTS AT PHOENIX’ MUSICAL INSTRUMENT MUSEUM, the world’s largest collection of its kind on the planet. Frequently, I ask my young guests, who are viewing various animal-inspired music exhibits in the Asia gallery, why the sculpted lions seen on South Korean chimes are blue. Now, in fact, there are no lions in Korea, so in summoning the big cat’s strength and courage as a protective symbol for their music, the locals probably had to try to imagine one, including its features and hues. But pose this question to a five-year-old and the answers are far more instinctual:

“They wanted to”.

“Cause it looks cool that way”.

“It’s their lion…they can do what they want.”

Never do these children suggest that the lion is blue because the Koreans don’t know the “correct” color, nor do they think that there’s anything about its color that renders it “inaccurate”. And when I ask if they’ve ever used a “different” crayon to color something just the way they want it, every hand shoots up. Of course. Why wouldn’t I?

It’s my coloring book. I can do what I want.

Early color photography was about reproducing nature faithfully, accurately recording and reproducing reality. That makes sense, since you must have a standard before you can wander away from that standard. And at a time when color imaging was a novelty, science understandably put the emphasis on “getting it right”, which for publication and printing purposes, was a big enough mountain to climb, at first.

However, we have long since entered a phase in which the colors which nature or our eyes have assigned to an object is only one way, not “the” way to creatively depict it. We can use color counter-intuitively, emotionally. We can cast an image in every aspect of the rainbow, not merely within the narrow channel of “reality”. Color interpretation is surely as important as exposure or any other aspect of making a picture. In the above photo, my mind needed this old row house to be drenched in the burned gold of sunset. Since I was shooting at one in the afternoon, that wasn’t going to happen, so….

And if we forget to think with a child’s suppleness as we age into old habits, the next generation is always there to prod us back into the same state of wonder that makes a five-year-old perfectly okay with creatively colored animals. Recent retro movements among shooters, for example, include the simulation of improperly processed film, which is an optional filter on many of today’s phone apps. It’s a deliberate choice to take the quirky color caused by a lab error and turn it into an interpretive tool.

The over-arching rule here is: try it and see what happens. You don’t need to defend your choice to a committee or write a lengthy treatise (like this one) on why it’s justified.

You just have to wonder what a blue lion might look like.

 

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2 responses

  1. NICE! check out my blog please! https://bowtiejames.wordpress.com

    January 9, 2016 at 7:58 PM

    • Thanks for the invitation! Your daily digest of upbeat news and inspirational quotes is quite a nice complement to my day. I appreciate your visits to THE NORMAL EYE as well.

      January 10, 2016 at 11:51 AM

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