The Virtue of Color
Anyone who has followed along with what I do for any amount of time will know that most of my photographic output takes place in black and white. To paraphrase things that I have said in the past about black and white as my preferred medium: I basically prefer it because I find that it works better for the kinds of things I am trying to say/do with my images (for the extended treatment click here).
I do dabble in color from time to time, usually after spending a lot of time looking at the work of Eliot Porter, a photographer I take to be an exemplar of good use of color in landscape/nature imagery. But my engagements with it are almost always transient at best.
I do, however, think there is value in color photography despite the fact that I rarely do it. And more specifically, one of the biggest virtues of color work, for me, is the sense of transparency and honesty that comes with the very straightforward presentation of the world in color work.
I am reminded here of a very specific experience that motivated me to focus more on color for some time (although I eventually reverted back to black and white), and which has always stuck with me as a kind of definitive experience about the place of color in landscape/nature images.
I was walking along the river shooting my grandfather’s Minolta XD5 and while looking through the viewfinder composing an image I was overcome by the sense that there was nothing for me to with the scene in front of me.
At that moment the world before me seemed entirely sufficient to itself, so strikingly beautiful just as it was that any alteration I could have made in my presentation of it, even something as subtle as the removal of color, would have only felt like a falsification. All there was to be done was to be as true to the scene as I could be.
This, of course, means having to engage the world with color.
At the time I was shooting a roll of FP4 so shooting color wasn’t an option but the experience was enough for me to pick up several rolls of C41 (which I still haven’t developed to this day) and start dedicating a lot more time to color work to explore this notion of integrity to the scene in front of me.
As I said, I eventually went back to shooting black and white, as I always do. In large part because I have always felt that my color images are missing something that my black and white images are better able to express. Perhaps it is because of the very same issues that I have talked about in my essay on black and white. The literalism which is such a beautiful aspect of color is the same quality which makes it more difficult to present the landscape in the ways I am looking to do in my monochrome work.
But, these issues with my own color work aside, this aspect of color photography is the most appealing virtue of the medium to me. And despite my various qualms it is an approach to image making that I still find quite beautiful and something that I am still interested in exploring more. It is a drastically different approach than monochrome, to be sure, but I find the underlying concept interesting enough to keep coming back to. Stay tuned.