COLOR AS REAL ESTATE
By MICHAEL PERKINS
OCCASIONALLY YOU SEE ARTICLES PROCLAIMING THAT THE SELECTIVE DE-SATURATION OF COLOR IN PHOTOS is “finished”, that the process ran the entire gamut from novel to creative to “over it”, and that nothing fresh or new can be accomplished in what should now be considered a fad. I don’t know why some of us are perpetually in the pronouncement business, but I think it’s (a) short-sighted and (b) unhelpful to go around telling people what tools are or are not au courant. It’s also the opposite of the way art develops in the mind.
Just as the use or absence of color over an entire frame is a fundamental creative choice, so must the partial use of it. Rather than think of an image as having one color scheme that operates from end to end, I prefer to think of color as part of a multi-use piece of real estate, with multiple choices to be made as you walk the entire area. Color may be just what this lot needs, but not the yard next to this house. Every piece of visual real estate must be independently “developed”, whether in coordination with the overall picture or as a specialized visual traffic cop directing the eye for specific reasons.
In the top image, the department store counter surrounding the advertisement is nearly empty, due to the area being almost totally closed down (stock situations, apparently). The exposure time was fast and the ISO was low and so the ambient color framing the ad was decidedly warm. Other than that, the color doesn’t serve much of a purpose as either narrative or atmosphere, so in the second version, all attention was centered on the model’s face, which carries more raw information than the rest of the frame. I think the picture is more immediate with the change, or at least more so than either a full-color or monochrome version would be.
Look, I get it. Photographers, no less than the writers of articles and op-eds, can get into the habit of seeing things in polar opposites. Still, anytime you refer to your method on a photo as “something I always do” or “something I never do“, you’re limiting yourself needlessly. And when it comes to making pictures, there are enough boundaries imposed on us naturally without our arbitrarily installing more.