Posts Tagged ‘Fuji’

Pure Colour

Saturday, May 11th, 2019

I’ve long been something of a fan of Joerg Colberg’s Conscientious Photography Magazine though I often find myself arguing with his opinions and sometimes wondering why on earth he bothered to review some publication. But it’s always good to see some critical thinking about photography, even when I feel he has got it completely wrong.

His review of Pure Country by Bill Sullivan is perhaps a good example of what both interests me and to some extent infuriates me. Colberg begins with a rather interesting discussion of colour in photography, considering 25 reproductions on-line of William Eggleston‘s ‘ The Red Ceiling‘ (aka Greenwood, Mississippi, 1973) a picture that if you have any interest in photography you are doubtless familiar with (click on the link to see a not very convincing version of it on Wikipedia should you need a reminder.)

As Wikipedia reminds us, this is a picture about which Eggleston himself has commented “I’ve never seen it reproduced on the page to my satisfaction” and I suspect he may be even less convinced by most of the reproductions online. As well as viewing it on-screen, I also own various reproductions of it it books and magazines, as well as having viewed the “original”, Eggleston’s approved dye transfer print, at various times in exhibitions.

Colberg reproduces not the picture, but 25 versions of it averaged out into a single colour, with 25 slightly different red tones, and he asks what is the proper colour. Actually in this case the answer is fairly clear, and implied in Eggleston’s answer – it is the colour of the dye transfer print.

And at least dye transfer prints are pretty stable, though they will like anything else look different depending on the illumination they are viewed by. Eggleston went on to talk about the ‘blood-red’ of the original print, so if you want to know what it should look like, you might just prick yourself and compare.

I don’t actually consider Eggleston a good guide to colour. Most of the images in my 1989 copy of ‘The Democratic Forest‘ appear to me to have a colour cast, usually a slight yellow or perhaps pale orange. Many of his actual prints – the C-types rather than the dye-transfers – that I’ve seen in exhibitions seem to have degraded a little over the years even further in that direction, I imagine they were printed on Kodak colour papers which don’t generally age well.

Back in 1985, when I largely moved from colour transparency to colour negative in my work, part of the reason was that Fuji had come out with new and improved colour papers, giving cleaner colour reproduction and promising longer life. They also enabled you to control printing more easily, allowing burning and dodging with no colour shift.

Colour has both a scientific and a subjective, personal and emotional aspect. We can measure accurately in terms of hue, saturation and brightness, look at the spectral distribution of reflected light and use measurements such as these to determine how accurate the reproduction of colour is through particular materials and processes. But accuracy of reproduction isn’t always the goal, and there are always colours which are outside the range of any particular reproduction.

Personally in my own work I like to aim for reasonable colour accuracy and try to avoid any colour casts, though I don’t always succeed. There is always a temptation to make things just a little on the warm side and I normally succumb. I generally don’t like photographs that clearly distort colour, something practicised by some photographers to achieve a personal style.

Colberg goes on to state “Maybe it all comes down to the fact that there really isn’t such a thing as the world in colour. There’s just what you make it look like, plus there are basic facts such as women being able to see more colours than men.

Objectively I think he is wrong, confusing colour as a measurable, physical property describing how objects interact with light, with our subjective experience of colour. What I see in my mind as red or blue may be nothing like what you see as these colours, and we may have very different experiences and emotional reactions to them. We may even use different words to describe them – I often argue with my wife over whether something is blue or green, and while we all still talk about the rainbow having both blue and indigo, it is a distinction that has been lost since someone first coined “Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain”.

Colberg goes on to discuss Bill Sullivan‘s book Pure Country, which I’ve not seen. From his review and the page images on the publishers web site, I suspect it is not something I would like and certainly not something I’d fork out $80 plus shipping for, although the included “74 page pictorial index called the Pure Country Graphic Index 1659-2018 people, countries, color photography, worlds fairs & expositions, paintings, Suprematism & The Bauhaus. The index functions as a graphic timeline of dates, information, and images that inform the book set along an historical timeline with a major focus on the evolution of color image-making and photography spanning the last five centuries” does sound mildly interesting and at least in the couple of pages shown reproduces its images in more or less correct colour, but it appears to lack any real depth that might make it useful.