You might have noticed I didn't feature any comments to the "What Should a Color Photo Look Like?" post.
[Digression...] "Featured Comments" on TOP are supposed to be a sampling of the comments, for people who don't have time to read all of them. The ones I feature are not just the ones I agree with, although I admit I have a prejudice in favor of comments that are well written or that offer additional insight. Or are funny. I especially like comments that speak directly from experience of the topic at hand...the ultimate example of that was probably when I did a post about Irving Penn's platinum prints and we got a comment from the assistant who had helped Penn make the prints. Gold. [/digression]
Yesterday I just figured I'd give everyone their say, and not pick and choose. I know it's a lot to read through, but there were some very interesting comments and some great insights. The overall arc of the comments taken as a whole was very interesting too—lots of peoples' impressions of the pictures contradicted lots of other peoples' impressions.
Of course, that could literally be the case, since we're all looking at the pictures on different monitors and they might look different, literally.
In part I'm looking to educate myself here. I'm very sensitive to color but B&W is what moves me. I know exactly what I think a B&W print should look like. What I don't know, exactly, is what a color photo should look like...circa 2016. What's in our minds as we work the sliders and pull the gradation curtains?
So I have a further question: Do you want a photograph to transform reality? Or do you want it to be a likeness of reality?
An interpretation, or a report? Personal expression, or objective documentary?
[Another digression...] Note that "transformation" doesn't have to mean manipulation, necessarily. Many people throughout the history of photography felt that just the act of making a photograph could be enough to make a scene look surreal or bring out a certain underlying bizarre quality beneath reality...if it did. (Sometimes it didn't.) One of the most "transformative" of photographers was Diana Arbus, and she didn't obviously manipulate anything. Yet almost all of her photographs look, well, weird, even when she wasn't trying to make them look that way. [/digression]
If you didn't like the look of the pictures in the Times portfolio I linked yesterday, can you point to a small portfolio of color photos that look just like what you think color photos ought to look like? (Here I'm talking about what you want and expect color photos to look like...of course we can all look at a wide range of other work with interest, with various levels of approval or disapproval.) Maybe something to just be on the lookout for.
I'm really interested in this, by the way...I don't think I have the answers. In other words, it's really a question, not a quiz.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Geoff Wittig (partial comment): "Digital capture and Photoshop throws everything in a blender, because it's all so malleable and contingent. Given the great advances in resolution, dynamic range and ISO sensitivity, not to mention excellent inkjet printers, most of the limits constraining color printing have been greatly reduced. So I think you really do have to contemplate exactly what you're trying to convey with color processing, or you'll end up with a kind of inconsistent ransom note collage."
01af: "I think it was Peter Galassi, the former Curator of Photography at the MoMA in NYC, who said: 'Photography always transforms what it describes. The art of photography is to control that transformation.'"
John Krumm: "I'm pretty flexible as far as color goes. I love some of the masters, perhaps leaning towards Elliot Porter when I'm out in the woods, and there are some impressive young people working in color. I can appreciate subtle approaches, bold looks, intense saturation. Like most here I don't like bad HDR and sad tricks like a red rose in a black-and-white scene.
"I really hate Instagram, how insular and controlled it is, but that's where you can find _xST, (Shawn Theodore), a color photographer whose work I enjoy."
Mike replies: He's great. Nice find. Thanks.
Jim Natale: "Well, I think this is rather nice color work, although you'll detect an obvious bias."
Mike replies: I don't usually encourage people to point to their own work, for the purely practical reason that I don't want to be overrun by self-promoters. But Jim's right, I think—he has a consistent style of processing and a consistent approach to color that as a viewer is easy to accept as integral to the whole of his work as it's presented on his site.
That's what I tend to look for—a consistent approach to processing that reflects how a particular artist/photographer chooses to see and work and present their work. Of course it doesn't have to be—can't be—consistent from person to person—nobody would want that—but one person's consistency of basic style can reflect integrity of vision.
The anonymous Times photographer of the Cuba portfolio is consistent in how he or she likes his or her photographs to look.
(By the way, my brother Charlie guessed the photographer of the Times portfolio might be the excellent Daniel Berehulak, the Australian photojournalist based in New Delhi, India. But I emailed Daniel and no, it wasn't him. I see from this morning's Times that he's in Brussels at the moment.)
Adrian: "Don't forget that we're also all locking at the pictures with different eyes, literally. And brains."
Marvin G. Van Drunen: " I want a color photo and a black and white photo to, in some way, move me or please me emotionally. The emotion could be love, hate, joy, or sorrow...really any emotion. A photo I like may not move you at all or you may respond to it with loathing. That is OK.
"I don't believe there can be any definitive answer to your questions. I find I really like the photos in the Times portfolio. I don't care one wit if they were 10% more or 10% less saturated. They trigger a positive emotional response in me as I look at them and, for me, that's all that matters. I also do not understand the color versus black and white discussions. Both are valid and wonderful. Perhaps color more perfectly suits certain subjects while black and white suits others. But I must say I do not understand the feeling of some that black-and-white photos are the only photos that are truly 'art.' I really like the full color efforts of Vermeer and Rembrandt. I'm glad they moved beyond the pencil sketches which preceded some of their finest full color oils."
Mike replies: Actually there are no Vermeer sketches extant and we don't know how he worked, but I take your point.
Norm Nicholson: "The only point I wish to make is that one should distinguish between a collaborative production and a personal photographic expression.
"The NYT Cuba portfolio was a group production, with a deliberative style in mind. I enjoyed looking at them.
"But the Cockfight picture made me laugh. Norman Rockwell painted his Saturday Evening Post covers from posed photographs. I thought, 'they've managed to eliminate Rockwell.' The photo is so perfectly posed, and the colors so vivid. It really is his style. It's too perfect. I can't help but wonder whether it was staged. Kudos to the producers.
"As for a personal production, I debate with myself over matters of style. Camera and post production technology has become so advanced that we now have tremendous latitude as to how the final photo will look.
"My own solution is to let the let the photo or group of photos determine the "style." Of course, i'm being totally subjective, and I no longer have a distinctive style. (If I ever had one.)
"It's simply up to the viewer to decide whether they like it or not. But, Isn't that the way it's always been?"
MHMG: "I find myself following this discussion much like one can follow the craft of magic. If someone in the audience knows nothing about how the magician accomplishes the trick, then the result can be wondrous and spellbinding. On the other hand, If you know more or less how the trick was performed, the bloom then seems to be off the rose so to speak which is why magicians are not usually willing to reveal how they perform their magic feats. The problem with digital image manipulation is that the tricks aren't well kept secrets, and when they become trendy, we see a lot of the same 'magic' being performed over and over again. I see real talent in the source images used the NYT portfolio, but I also know how little technical and artistic effort it took to accomplish the post processing of these source files in order massage them into their final unified 'painterly' rendition."
Anthony Shaughnessy: "I don't think I have a preconception of what a colour photo should look like. I think it's up to the photographer to convince the viewer that her treatment or use of colour has some beauty or truth (in the artistic sense). A bit like comedy, it doesn't matter whether you're Jackie Mason or Stephen Wright, you're either funny or not funny. Your use of colour either works or doesn't work but I don't think there is any single right way for it to be and I don't think I have a single preferred way for it to be. That doesn't mean I don't generally prefer a particular style for my own photographs. I usually want depth and three-dimensionality and that usually requires increasing contrast (not saturation) and getting the colour temperature right."