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Author Topic: Colour, or not to Colour  (Read 15855 times)

Rob C

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Colour, or not to Colour
« on: August 29, 2015, 03:46:21 pm »

À propos of not a lot, I was walking the terrace doing my obligatory hour this evening when the mind turned to less hypnotically mind-numbing things, and I found myself wondering about Henri C-B.

In particular, I tried to put him into some sort of perspective vis-à-vis Saul Leiter, the latter being one of my pet lensmen in both black and white as well as colour – especially in colour. The instant consideration that hit me between the eyes – it could have been worse – was that as far as I can tell, the Frenchman never did anything in colour. There may well be hidden masterpieces (and of course, I speak only of his photography, not his more serious art) somewhere, but my memory reveals none.

Yes, I know that the two worked for different devils, but both performed a noticeable amount of their oeuvre on the pavement. Another difference, perhaps, is that Leiter appears to have made much of his historical contribution in personal work, as distinct from commissioned, whereas HC-B did have political magazines and the Magnum project to worry about, and a lot of what one sees had publication as a priority, or so it seems to me.

But here's the deal, or, rather, the question: would HC-B's material have been anything worth writing home about if he'd worked it in colour?

Leiter did a lot in both – two separate books devoted to his early work, one for each medium – and from my way of looking at this, he did well in both, though I do find a more personal call from the colour, as I've said. That's not to deny the black and white, just my preference. I bought his eponymous, last book – I think it came out just after he died – and both ways of seeing are represented nicely.

Both men were painters before they were photographers; did it affect them in different ways? I can't honestly say that any of HC-B's photography looks 'painterly' nor am I certain that that's just due to the absence of colour; as I have seen no colour photography from him, it's silly to project a supposition there. However, in the case of Leiter's street colour, the artist speaks much louder than the lensman. I feel he works colour as blocks rather than as specific detail; yes, of course one can see what it's all about, but the emotional buzz comes from the colour rather than the explicitness of content.

Maybe the reality is that Leiter's 'street' was simply an extension of his mental studio, whereas HC-B's 'steet' was his sketchbook.
« Last Edit: August 30, 2015, 03:29:30 am by Rob C »
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RSL

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Re: Colour, or not to Colour
« Reply #1 on: August 30, 2015, 12:17:00 pm »

Hi Rob, I'd say welcome back, but we've been corresponding regularly so it's welcome back to LuLa.

Actually, HCB did do some color photography, and if you google "cartier-bresson color photography" you'll see some of it. There's even a current show of his color photography at Somerset House in the U.K. But as the page at http://www.somersethouse.org.uk/about/press/press-releases/cartier-bresson-a-question-of-colour points out he was disparaging toward color photographs.

I've forgotten where in his writings I read it and I don't want to take the time right now to research it -- Isaac probably can put his finger on it -- but his main beef was the fact that in photography you can't control color relationships the way you can in painting. Blue and green are going to recede, and red and orange are going to advance, and there's not a damned thing you can do about it. You can screw around with colors in Photoshop, but the results probably are going to be unconvincing. Of course he couldn't screw around in Photoshop for the obvious reason that there was no Photoshop.

I have to admit I'm not terribly impressed with his color work. I think Manuel Álvarez Bravo and Helen Levitt. among others, were better at it. Henri's world was B&W.

Telecaster

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Re: Colour, or not to Colour
« Reply #2 on: August 30, 2015, 04:31:03 pm »

I'd definitely put Helen Levitt up among the best whether in color or b&w. IMO HCB's more spatially-oriented approach doesn't work as well (or at least isn't as easy to employ) in color…thus, likely, his dislike of color pic-taking.

-Dave-
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Rob C

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Re: Colour, or not to Colour
« Reply #3 on: August 30, 2015, 04:59:35 pm »

I found the link to the show, Russ, but though they push it with the HC-B name, it includes many more snappers than the man himself. I wasn't impressed by the colour stuff that was on display, but then I'm biased: I don't much like any of the more aggressive street style, and even less so in colour, where the effect of 'toughness' (mainly of the photographer) seems to consist of producing hellish contrast and not a lot more.

Maybe it requires film, black and white film, if you want to show a mean old world.

;-)

Rob

RSL

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Re: Colour, or not to Colour
« Reply #4 on: August 30, 2015, 05:25:40 pm »

I agree, Rob. Color film is hard to control when you're doing street. You can grab it if you're in a studio where you can match things up, but on the street it's a lot more out of control. Which, I think, is why HCB did very, very little color in his life. B&W is the right medium for street.

amolitor

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Re: Colour, or not to Colour
« Reply #5 on: August 31, 2015, 05:05:08 pm »

He was trained as a painter, but I think tended more naturally toward drawing.

Methinks he was about the placement of form and line more than anything else, and that lends itself to monochrome work. Color is hard. People don't appreciate, generally, how hard it is.
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Rob C

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Re: Colour, or not to Colour
« Reply #6 on: August 31, 2015, 05:13:26 pm »

He was trained as a painter, but I think tended more naturally toward drawing.

Methinks he was about the placement of form and line more than anything else, and that lends itself to monochrome work. Color is hard. People don't appreciate, generally, how hard it is.


You're right, of course: he spoke always of geometry.

Rob

AreBee

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Re: Colour, or not to Colour
« Reply #7 on: August 31, 2015, 05:31:22 pm »

Andrew,

Quote
Color is hard. People don't appreciate, generally, how hard it is.

What is it that makes colour difficult?
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luxborealis

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Re: Colour, or not to Colour
« Reply #8 on: August 31, 2015, 06:08:55 pm »

Andrew,

What is it that makes colour difficult?

Taking a scene in colour, itself, is easy enough - just point and shoot. The difficulty lies in making a photograph, a work of art, that people don't pass off as a "pretty colour picture". It's like the difference between taking a "postcard" shot and making a work of art. I run into this difficulty all the time with landscapes. Often, people don't look past the colour and into the photograph. They satisfy themselves with how well it will bring out the tones in their couch! It's one of the reasons I like B&W so much. It forces people past the façade of colour and into the dynamic of the photograph.
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amolitor

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Re: Colour, or not to Colour
« Reply #9 on: August 31, 2015, 06:46:59 pm »

What makes color hard? Depends on what you're trying to do, but the general theme is "it's a completely 'nother axis of stuff you want to be in command of"

Let's say you want to make an appealing landscape. We're not trying to make some deep emotional statement, we just want a landscape that people like to look at. Well, you've got all the usual elements of form and line to deal with, to create a pleasing, balanced but not dull, interesting but not chaotic, etetera, frame. Now throw in color. Now you want to balance and make interesting but not chaotic the color as well. This is why virtually all landscapes that actually sell are, when you squint: purplishblue+orangeishyellow OR greens+browns, and in general you have one of the two sides dominant and the other a minor accent.

Let's say you want to make a powerful artistic statement. Now you need to think about how people will react to the colors you're using in the context you're using them. Will that splash of red throw the soothing sensation of the scene off?

Let's say you're shooting fashion. This is actually a GREAT place to see the difficulties of color. A fashion photograph's job is to make the model and the clothes+accessories look fantastic. If you're shooting in color, in order to make it look fabulous and "done" you need to manage the color palette, otherwise it looks thrown together. Ever wonder what the heck is is about fashion that makes it look so great? Here's what it is: The model's hair matches the bricks behind her, and the handbag, and the clock tower in the distance. The dress, the paint on the wall, and the collar on the dog, are all the same hue, in slightly different saturations. The model's skin is the same shade of tan as the car that's passing down the road in the left of the frame. Some combination of photoshop and the stylist have gone to completely mad lengths to pull the color together and make it flow beautifully.

As luxborealis says, color is easy if you just want a more or less realistic looking picture. Beyond that, it's a gigantic hassle.
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Rob C

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Re: Colour, or not to Colour
« Reply #10 on: September 01, 2015, 03:40:03 am »

"http://www.hansfeurer.com/"

Fashion, colour, how it works best (IMO).

Fuerer developed his long-lens style fairly quickly in his career. (This isn't me just supposin' but a statement from reading him in print.) He explained that his choice of long lenses was forced by his desire to reduce everything to the minimum, to exclude the unimportant but to maintain interest and mood, and to permit the continuity of emotion and wishing on the part of the woman looking at the work, the buyer.

His take is that fashion isn't about covering nakedness (or not), it's about something totally else: it's about giving women the opportunity of adventure, allowing the change to the person that they want to be on any particular day, or at any specific event. In other words, it's about transformation. And dreams.

So, cut out the backgrounds or simply bend them to your purpose by creating blobs of colour or interesting circles and so on.

In street, you don't get the time to think that deeply or philosophically: you grab if you can, at someting that's about to happen that fits a subconscious concept of your definition of 'street'. You get no control of colour's distractions.

I'm not a street shooter, so my take on it is drived from what I see of the genre.

Rob
« Last Edit: September 01, 2015, 02:30:59 pm by Rob C »
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louoates

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Re: Colour, or not to Colour
« Reply #11 on: September 01, 2015, 11:01:05 am »

Great comments all! You answered a lot of questions lurking unasked in my mind for years. Whenever I process a street shot I never even consider keeping the color. Maybe because when I started to shoot "seriously" back in the 1960's I had my own b/w darkroom and shot only b/w film. But that vision also continued through my digital processing career--I couldn't wait to drain that color garbage from my street vision. Looking back to all my street "keepers" I can't even imagine them as color images.
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