Colour by Significance

Laurie says:

As someone who has been a black and white photographer for most of her photographic life, I’ve always considered color both easy and difficult. Easy because it reflects the way we think we see the world. (Although photography is always a particular vision or/an interpretation.)

Black and white for me is simultaneously abstract and intimate. It creates a reality that is not the way we see and asks us to look harder.

Color creates the reality of familiarity, unless the photographer incorporates color in a way that is essential to the art. That’s hard because the color creates a kind of ordinary beauty that is seductive without depth.

Zsolt Bátori, of the ph/21 Gallery in Budapest, recently had an exhibition of Colour Burst that discuses aspects of color photography brilliantly. This is the gallery that I had work in earlier this year in their Body exhibition.

There are two kinds of photographs with respect to the significance of their colours. On the one hand, ever since colour film technology became widely available, colour has become the default in most photographic practices. In other words, some photographs are in colour not because their colours bear some special significance (compared, for instance, to their possible black and white counterparts), but simply because the available film or digital technology has long turned colour to be the common method of capturing photographic images. We may think of these photographs as colour by default. On the other hand, colours are often central to the meaning of photographs for their emphatic, symbolic, psychological, social, compositional, etc. significance. These photographs would not work in black and white at all; that they are in colour is not merely a technological given, rather, it is an integral, formative and significant aspect of their photographic meaning. We may think of these photographs as colour by significance.

I love the phrase “colour by significance”.

A long time ago, Ctein and I did a series of landscape collaborations of my black-and-white darkroom photographs and his dye-transfer photographs. They were, among other things, a fine art discussion about black and white and color.

Monterey Kelp is an example of our work.


Monteray Kelp_ Edison_Ctein


It was hard to choose images from the Color Burst exhibition. Its conversation about color work is broad and complex.


The Dive_Eva M. Brown

The Dive

Juror’s choice The Dive by Eva M. Brown is, indeed, one of those images whose complex communicative content is based on the colours of the photograph. Colours in this case are not accidental or automatic features; they are not in the image merely because it is technically possible for them to be there but because they must be present in order to create the meaning of the picture. As we begin to study the photograph we notice some components that we recognise as flowers, perhaps petunias. Then we realize that they are considerably more subdued in colour than an ordinary petunia flower, so we may decide that they are likely to be something else. We are also a bit uncertain about their location and context. Are they in water? Do we look at them from below as they float around from the perspective of a diver as suggested by the title of the image? What is the bluish green substance that provides the background of their floating dance made of? Their pattern is most unusual, different from the familiar flowery arrangements. As our recognition is becoming less and less precise and certain, we are letting ourselves be carried away with the sophisticated dance of the colour patterns emerging from the swirling arrangement. The forms and patterns are themselves captivating but it is the colours of this image that mesmerize us, that make recollection effortless and most rewarding.


Yazoo, 2014

Untitled by Thomas Pearson


Untitled Margarits Mavromichalis

Untitled by Margarits Mavromichalis

See the whole exhibition here.