Tuesday, January 02, 2007

urban ku # 17/17a



An anonymous commenter wrote, "when asked....color? Prose. Black and White? Poetry."

I never thought of it exactly that way before. To my eye and sensibilities, B&W photography - with the exception of portraiture - has always been a medium of abstraction in as much as we don't see in B&W. Something is "missing" in B&W photography, something has been "altered", that something of course being color, which is a very real and ubiquitous component of our visual world. Perhaps it is the familiar ubiquitiousness of color that causes anonymous to characterize Color photography as "prose" or prosaic.

The dictionary lists as synonyms for "prosaic" - ordinary, everyday; vapid, humdrum, tedious, tiresome, and, uninteresting, although my leap from "prose" to "prosaic" may be overstating anonymous' intent, but I think not since the dictionary definition of "prose" hammers on the same notes of ordinary, everyday, dull, etc.

So I must respectfully disagree with anonymous. There exists too much good color photography - my own included - to label the color photography genre "prose" or "prosaic".

As for the contention that B&W photography is poetry, I might be inclined to venture "maybe". "Maybe", first and foremost because I am not all that comfortable using one form of art as a metaphor for another form. Photography is not poetry, or for that matter, prose, both of which traffic with and in words.

"Maybe", because, when used as an adjective, the word "poetic" can mean something with poetic qualities however manifested. But for me, the problem here is that "poetic" can also aptly describe much color photography as well.

It should not be inferred that I dislike B&W photography. I will venture that carefully crafted B&W prints can be, in and of themselves and independent of their subject matter, incredibly beautiful objects in a manner that color prints don't seem to match. B&W photography also seems well suited to describing shape and line and, perhaps, with skillful compostions of shape and line, B&W photographs can emulate, after a fashion, the rythmn and meter of poetry. But, IMO, the same can be said of color photography as well.

All of that said, it should be obvious that my chosen manner of photographic expression is the Color vernacular. I would be interested in reading the thoughts of those who have chosen the B&W vernacular as theirs.

FEATURED COMMENT: Steve Durbin wrote (in part): "...A phrase that springs to mind in this context is "poetic license." That's appropriate because B&W photographers can "get away with" much stronger image manipulation without having their images judged as overly manipulated, for the very reason that they've already abstracted their image from reality by dispensing with color. Thanks to historical accident, viewers have a level of acceptance of black and white images that can be and is taken advantage of by photographers...."

FEATURED COMMENT: anonymous wrote: "I think you're missing something here. In fact this entire post is based off a profound misunderstanding of the anonymous commenter's comment.

What you're missing is that prose is not necessarily prosaic. In fact it can be anything but prosaic. The two words are not synonymns despite sharing a root word, yet your post is based on prose being necessarily prosaic.

Yes, colour photography is more prose than poetry. That is due to poetry and B&W being more abstract approaches, while colour and prose are in general more descriptive. Neither need be prosaic, and both certainly can be.
"

publisher's response: Thanks very much for the toughtful comment.

My interpretation of the original anonymous' statement - "when asked....color? Prose. Black and White? Poetry." - was based on the dictionary definition of "prose" which states; 1.the ordinary form of spoken or written language, 2.matter-of-fact, commonplace, or dull expression, quality, discourse, etc., 4.commonplace; dull; prosaic, 5.to write or talk in a dull, matter-of-fact manner. The dictionary also states that poetry is a quality that suggests grace, beauty, and harmony.

But, without going all didactic or donnish, I inferred that anonymous was opining that bw photography was superior to color photography as in grace and beauty trump dull and commonplace. Maybe that's not what he meant. Maybe he just used the wrong analogy.

In any event, I do agree with you that when it comes to photography, color or bw, neither need be prosaic, and both certainly can be.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Steve Durbin said...

This is an interesting comparison that can be used to derive some insights, and I appreciate both the comment (though I didn't see it in context) and your picking up on it. For starters, though, I should say that I am as uncomfortable as you are with comparisons of photography with literature. As far as I can tell, most people have a narrow understanding of both, and anyone claiming that, say, poetry is better or higher than prose renders their other statements highly suspect.

That said, I think the comparison carries weight in that the constraint of working without color could be considered similar to the constraint of working within a poetical form like a sonnet (are my predilections showing?). Eliminating a degree of freedom forces one to rely on others for expression. (Along these lines, it's interesting that shape, line, and tone are common terms in literary criticism -- but so is color.) Whether constraint enables or lends greater force to the free aspects is an interesting question.

A phrase that springs to mind in this context is "poetic license." That's appropriate because B&W photographers can "get away with" much stronger image manipulation without having their images judged as overly manipulated, for the very reason that they've already abstracted their image from reality by dispensing with color. Thanks to historical accident, viewers have a level of acceptance of black and white images that can be and is taken advantage of by photographers.

That's enough for now, though I've barely scratched the surface. I'm looking forward to further discussion on this thread.

1/02/2007 03:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you're missing something here. In fact this entire post is based off a profound misunderstanding of the anonymous commenter's comment.

What you're missing is that prose is not necessarily prosaic. In fact it can be anything but prosaic. The two words are not synonymns despite sharing a root word, yet your post is based on prose being necessarily prosaic.

Yes, colour photography is more prose than poetry. That is due to poetry and B&W being more abstract approaches, while colour and prose are in general more descriptive. Neither need be prosaic, and both certainly can be.

1/05/2007 03:30:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Photography Directory by PhotoLinks