ESSAYS: THE POETRY OF COLOR
THE POETRY OF COLOR
Unlike so many photographers who start shooting in black-and-white, I began to photograph in color. The first roll of film I ever put in a camera was a roll of E-6 color slide film. The next day, when I got my film back from the lab, it was love at first sight. The stained-glass reds and yellows of a Rocky Mountain autumn absolutely stole my heart – and never gave it back. There was no doubt that, as Ernst Haas said, "Color is Joy!"
So this story is all about my love affair with color. I’d like to invite you to join me in a reflection about color – color in nature, out in the real world, not in the studio (which for me is kind of terra incognita). I’d like to ask why color feels so important? What makes color so vital? and, when it’s really successful, so poetic.
I borrowed the title for this essay from a quote from one of my favorite photographers, Ernst Haas, who said: “as black and white photography is generally much more suited for journalistic prose, color photography, I feel, lends itself especially to expressing a visual kind of poetry.” Ernst was undeniably a poet, in words as well as images. And when I read that quote, I thought: Yes, I agree. But I wanted to look even deeper to find both the source and the real nature of this feeling of visual poetry that I also find in color.
Strip away the subject matter from a photograph, and what’s left? Two things. The underlying geometry of the photo, its composition or architecture. And the color, or sometimes just as importantly, the lack of color. For me, the purposeful shape, the architecture of a photograph, carries a stamp of finality. Composition, design and geometry make a picture coalesce, become solid, and enduring. Whereas the color carries the opposite message, one of transience and impermanence. That’s because colors are not inherent in objects, in things, but change with changing light – and light is always changing. Memorable colors, both intense and subtle, emotionally charged colors, never last long…and for me such impermanence is synonymous with poetry.
My friend, the aerial cinematographer, Bob Fulton, wrote: “God created poetry by crushing beauty and sadness together so deeply that only the most exquisite poets are later able to distinguish their sources.”
Beauty and sadness together – a powerful combination. The sadness Bob is talking about seems to be a mixture of regret, and longing, and nostalgia over the fact that nothing, really nothing lasts. We don’t last. Beauty doesn’t last. Light itself doesn’t last – it ebbs and changes, and the colors it produces are just as fleeting, just as ephemeral as the light that produces them. And those impermanent colors are incredibly precious and important in photography – in my photography at any rate.
So that’s where I would like to end this meditation about color. With color that comes and goes as the light comes and goes. Colors that, most of the time, most of the year in fact, aren’t really there. But linger on in our memories, our hearts, and our images.
WESTERN EYE PHOTOGRAPHY
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