COLOR VERSUS BLACK AND WHITE – THE COMMON VIEW
COLOR VS BLACK AND WHITE – MY PERSONAL VIEW
WHAT IS FINE ART
As I’ve stated in my fine art photography manifesto on my website: not all photography is art, but a great photograph has everything that all art has. Art isn’t just a beautiful photograph, but it should move us, inform us and make us experience something we didn’t experience and know before. Art makes us forget about the beauty of it that initially drew us in and experience a beauty that encompasses the visual and the imaginary.
Therefore, photography can be fine art if it:
- has an aesthetic appeal
- informs us and communicates a message that triggers an experience that hasn’t been experienced before
“Art is a form of expression we reside to if we wish to express an experience that hasn’t been experienced before to evoke an emotion through beauty”. – Joel Tjintjelaar
To start with the second bullet, the communication of a message, its role is often debated in art but Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko for example, once said; :”There’s no such thing as art about nothing”. I tend to concur with that. I’m not referring to a literal message only; a message that can only be explained in comprehensible words. I’m also referring to a less literal and more abstract message. This message can be communicated through any means of human expression: sometimes through words, other times through sound and music, sculptures and other objects, or through body language and last but not least through images. Each one of them are part of a universal language.
An emotion is also an experience. A very strong experience that can’t be limited to any arbitrary set of emotions. In principle, any experience is also an emotion and the artist aims to evoke such an emotion, through beauty.
“Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings and also experience them” – Leo Tolstoy
How can you communicate such an experience in photography?
There’s no simple rule to that but one needs to be aware that in art, what is depicted, colors and objects, are usually symbols. In fine art photography, the object that is being photographed, usually has a symbolic purpose. Alfred Stieglitz, the spiritual father of fine art photography, called the use of objects in photographs as symbols for an idea or an emotion to communicate ideas and emotions, Equivalences. The object that we choose to photograph as a fine art photographer, is an object we choose, consciously or subconsciously, to communicate a message through its symbolic meaning.
In any case, art is more than just a beautiful object, but also communicates and triggers an (emotional) experience. Whether the act of communicating this experience is a conscious or subconscious, is irrelevant.
But art always has an aesthetic aspect. And as I’ve described earlier, one of the ways to achieve aesthetics is through moving away from reality. And now we have come to the first bullet point that I have described earlier in this article. I want to conclude with giving a few suggestions on how to to create aesthetics with the steps I always include in my work to move further away from reality.
The goal of moving away from reality as many steps as possible addresses largely the aesthetic aspects of my work. In photography I use the following techniques to move away from reality.
- Represent the world in black and white, as a world in black and white is not a real world but a world where the luminance values dominate and are exaggerated.
- Represent the world through use of long exposure techniques. Long exposure reveal an invisible world that cannot be seen by the human eye. A world in which time has been prolonged to distort objects.
- Represent the world in exaggerated luminance values: adjusting luminance values and contrasts in such a way that depth is exaggerated or even distorted. This is the principle of creating presence.
- Represent the world in exaggerated proportions or distorted views through the use of mechanical tools like lenses or in composition by emphasising or distorting perspectives.
Black and white is one way of moving away from reality to infuse you work with aesthetics, and obtain a work that can be considered art. But it is not the only way, nor is every black and white photograph a fine art photograph by definition. Color photography can be art too, of course. And color has the power to add mood or symbolism to your work.
Use of black and white is just one of the tools you can use to create art in photography but be aware that it’s only useful and effective in combination with other tools from your artistic toolkit. The statement that black and white is equal to fine art has to be dismissed. But dismissing black and white as a meaningful way of expression, and qualifying it as a less beautiful and outdated way of expression, that has nothing to do with reality, are statements that ignores the essence of art.
Why not use black and white if it is already one step into the direction of art?
- More on black and white photography and fine art photography can be found in the eBook From Basics to Fine-art, that I co-wrote with Julia Anna Gospodarou
- More on my thoughts on fine art photography called Subjectivism.