Greyed Out, Contrast without Color

Intergalactic Fugue, copyright, Patricia C Vener

Intergalactic Fugue, copyright, Patricia C Vener

What if you couldn’t see color? Would your world be boring? Without color there would be only the many varied nuances of every possible shade of gray from black to white. Only? Indeed not, as any aficianado of film noire or Ansel Adams photography would likely insist.

Some fine art painters today, like their 1500s and 1600s counterparts use some kind of monochromatic underpainting to work out illumination and shading before applying final layers of more colorful paint. This technique acts like a template to help define a consistant lighting effect without the artist being lead astray by paint hue. As an example, we tend to interpret yellow as being lighter and brighter than other colors even when this is not so.

In photography, black and white images seek to derive interest from composition and tonal contrast instead of color contrast. Ansel Adams, for example, made great use of darkroom techniques to enhance the effects of light and dark areas in his film photography before making his final prints.

In film, working in black and white encouaged such cinematographers as Orson Wells and, earlier in 1920, the German creators (apparently several had a hand in the design) of Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr Caligari to experiment with light, shadow, and angles in ways that working in color does not inspire. In fact, it is my opinion that working in color has detracted from artistic cinematography with the contemporary prediliction for straight on views, panoramas and flat juxtapositions of color. Although there is the notable exception of now standard time travel effects simulating forced perspective (see for example the childrens television program, Dinosaur Train).

Vermeer’s Painting Technique: Drawing

The Modernism Lab at Yale University

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