Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Seduction of Color

Since I first went into a darkroom and saw a print come up in a tray of chemicals, I photographed with Monochrome film. I learned to see light. I learned to see in black and white. I learned to use my modified version of the zone system. I learned to make a good black and white print with the right balance of rich shadows and delicate highlights. I learned the craft and had control so I could make images that mattered to me.

But everytime I used color film because the place was so colorful and I thought maybe color was the way to capture the image, I was disappointed with my results. For a little while I tried carrying two cameras one loaded with color film and another loaded with monochrome film. My mind wasn't capable of switching back and forth and I didn't get good images in either medium. When I only took a camera loaded with color film, I didn't see in color. And I didn't have control of the process. I had to take my film to the lab and then get them to make prints which most often came back looking rather blah. I didn't know what to tell them to do to fix it. I tried color printing in my darkroom but the effort was a total failure for me. I couldn't or wouldn't spend the hours in the darkroom to learn how to color balance and make a good color print.

So for many years, I lived a very happy black and white life.

Then digital cameras came into my life. I have shot mainly with a digital SLR for almost three years. It took a long time but I finally started seeing in color and I finally got color management/computer/monitor/printer together. At least enough together so I feel I have some control over the craft. When you get control over the craft and techniques then you can start making your images instead of just taking images.

But COLOR is seductive. It has become a demanding lover and I've just realized that Color keeps whispering in my ear, "No, no, you don't need to convert that image to Monochrome. It looks good just the way it is." That ain't necessarily so.

I've been lazy but since I've been working on the black and white prints for a show during FotoFest in Houston I've been enticed by my first lover to come back to black and white images. Somehow, I have to find a way to balance the old love and the new love and figure out which images should be in color or in monochrome.

This isn't as simple a decision as it was in the old days. Then you made your decision; color film vs. monochrome film before you ever went to make an image. There was no looking back. But with the digital age, you can take the digital file and go either way. There can be a lot of looking back, questioning, indecision. This is one of the things I've got to work on in 2006.

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