thinking with pictures

seeing in color vs. monochrome

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screen-shot, 18 march 2015

Vividly close to daily experience vs. abstractly distanced from lived view

Whether movies, still images, or brush and ink pictures there is something fundamentally different between a rendition in full color versus black and white. Looking at the world in gray-scale shades and values discards the complementarity or contrast of colors, including the resulting relationships and patterns of a composition. Instead the eye dwells on brightness and darkness and the gradations between; a taste for dynamic range instead of the vividness and verisimilitude to daily experience. The scene is more distant, abstracted from the flow of ordinary vision. As well, texture gets more attention in monochrome. Perhaps the reduced visual diet of black and white focuses the eye on essentials of composition, brightness, and texture. When the mind is free from the distractions of luscious colors, then the engagement and urge to find meaning is amplified.
Perhaps the same thing happens outside the lens in one’s life course, too. When immersed in daily habits and routines year by year there is vividness and feeling of proximity or connectedness and meaning. But when events cause distancing from that flow (life crisis such as grief, departure from health, or in the hours of coming home from extended travels, or mechanical failure causing a change in routine and mobility that forces one from the playing field to the sidelines) then some space for reflection, contemplation, self-awareness and abstraction result.
Now if you yourself appear in the photo recorded in full color, then there is the familiarity of recognition: ah, yes, that is me. I was there. The same is likely true of color video in which one appears, except that the audio is different since one’s own voice perceived from external recording does not accord with the sound of one’s voice heard through one’s throat, ears and skull. But when one’s image appears in black and white, there is a process of distancing, abstraction and perhaps the objectifying that results in some critical awareness: one’s self is now a thing of composition, texture, light and so on. For friends, family or colleagues recorded in black and white or by way of color that has been reduced to grayscale tone, there is a similar process of abstraction and distancing. The mind fills in the missing context and memories so that the 2 dimensional likeness can still evoke lifelike experience or re-cognition. But for unknown places, persons and events, the black and white version causes the distancing and abstraction, no matter if the photo is from 1865 battlefield or 2015 music festival.
Finally, there is the observation about maturity or wisdom allowing a person to hold more than one vision in mind (even apparently contradictory or ironic ones). Applied to the above circumstances this would mean having the ability to “see” in both black and white, as well as color; that is, to see one’s own life in vivid normality and also abstracted distance (giving prominence to shape, light values, textures and overall composition). And applied to places and events not familiar to one’s routines, this means seeing both the exterior or abstracted qualities of the scene, but also projecting, injecting or imagining the color kind of vision that makes a scene perhaps ordinary and lacking in abstraction.


Author: gpwitteveen

Better Outreach is my aim. See to know more.

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