Monday, January 19, 2009

The Color of Subtraction

I saw a documentary about Henri Cartier-Bresson on the Sundance Channel. Not particularly well done, but it reminded me of my enchanting visit to the International Center of Photography to see the Cartier-Bresson exhibition a couple of years ago.

A strange thought occurred to me as I watched the film. Why do black and white photos seem more evocative than those in color? I think it's because the mind feels more inspired when adding than subtracting.

Black and white photos are like indie films. They don't rely on special effects to create a strained sense of realism. Instead, they give you an idea and allow you to construct the contours with your imagination. What color is that dress? How sunny was that day? You, the observer, participate in the creative process.

With color photos and big budget movies, not enough is left to the imagination. The color and special effects are intended to give a sense of realism, but the reality that they project is rather strained. Sure, that looks like the purple of the tulip, but it's not the purple of the tulip. And that looks like an explosion, but it's not an explosion. The strive for realism and the failure to attain it distract from the essence of the craft: to stimulate the imagination. Here, the observer becomes an editor -- someone focused on the deficiencies of the work and ways to eliminate them.