Sunday, February 04, 2007

Institutional green

Since photography is in many ways the art and the science of light, I hope you'll come on a little exploration with me. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is simple: Take a look at this picture, then come on back to this one (you can click it to enlarge, if you wish.)

Both of them were taken in front of the same building in a condo development in Florida. The green paint on the stairs of the initial image is the same as the green paint on the ground in this photo.

Yet the stairs almost leap off the screen with a sense of pastel-soaked vibrancy. The green here, on the other hand, combines with the dull-ish white on the walls and the faded-yellow security lights to suggest something more akin to the long, lonely halls of a deserted hospital ward.

It isn't really like that, of course, but it exemplifies how an apparently minor change in lighting and composition can so completely change the tone. It reminds me that a picture isn't an absolute truth, but is an interpretation of reality that can change based on the photographer's perspectives and biases at the moment the image was taken. All is not always as it seems in a picture.

This photo doesn't exude brilliance like the first one. I almost deleted it off the camera when I first took it. But the more I looked at it, the more I was drawn to the intricacies of photography that made this such a different storytelling experience this time out.

I decided it made sense to keep the image. I liked the geometry, I liked the mood, and I liked the idea that I could always return to this place and tell another story on a brighter day.

Your turn: How does light influence you?


Michael K. Althouse said...

I think it's the same with any interpretation of reality - any art. When I write, I can represent the same incident in a variety of ways - not necessarily on purpose either. How I perceive reality is often moderated by where I'm at in the given moment. Additionally, reality is never the same from moment to moment.

It therefore doesn't surprise me that the paint is the same color in both images - although I would never have guessed it. Part of the allure, for me, about interpreting the representations of others is imagining the frame through which the artists viewed the work. And realizing that what I see and what the creator did might be as different as night and day.

It's especially challenging in news writing to neutralize the influencing factors - to remain as objective and unemotional as possible. I much prefer putting more of myself into what I write, but it's a fine line between reporting the news and interpreting it. I am sure it's the same for photojournalism as well.

I like the image though. It has a starkness to it. It's almost like the building is aching to tell its story. It wants to share with us that it didn't used to be so bleak - that there were days of vibrancy and importance. It wants so bad to tell us to please remember.

Michele sent me,


Anna said...

WOW, it is amazing how the feeling in two pictures can be so different even if it is the same area. I love the lines of the stairs and I almost always prefer photos close up. Sometimes when I back up I lose interest and there is too much in the picture for me...

Does that make sense?

Anyhow...light influences me incredibly in photography. I prefer natural light if I can have it and will hold out as long as I can to get it. It just makes the image seem more real to me.

I like the shot Carmi...although to me the steps evoke more of a dramatic feeling. I am sure that the light hitting the green steps adds to why I find it pleasing.

kenju said...

When I am photographing, I always prefer natural light, if I can get it. Otherwise, the colors are almost always affected by the flash or incandescent lights.

scrappintwinmom said...

I love natural light when I'm taking pictures; and light most certainly does affect me - the more light, the better my mood. Here via Michele!

Anonymous said...

I would never have thought that those were from the same building. Your photo of the stairs is quite beautiful, the textures of the concrete show up so distinctly. Your hallway photo does look like a deserted hospital, like you say. It looks completely uninhabited.

I prefer natural light when taking photos. Anything else looks unnatural and I have not mastered the flash on my slr!

Mrs. Falkenberg said...

Light rules me. Truly. I live in the north, and for the part of the year with little light, I feel grey and foggy. But in the summer! Then I shine, and sparkle, and come to life!
Sigh. I can't wait for spring.

Anonymous said...

What strikes me the most in the difference between the two photos is how vibrant the sunlight is in the other one on the stairs. So the lighting there gives a whole different feeling.
Amazing the difference between the two.

Unknown said...

Hey Carmi--I don't know if you know this, but I was a professional commercial photographer in NYC before getting hit by the car that rendered me disabled (or 'unabled', as I like to say).

Before branching out on my own career I was a lighting assistant for a celebrity photographer. Oh man, we did such cool things with light. I mean the different tones and moods that you get from shooting with tungsten film outside, or daylight film inside; or shooting with available flourescent light when using regular store bought film--the possibilities are endless.

I'll give you a terrific example of a photographer duping the viewer by way of managing the light temperature: One day February, I was working in Central Park as a lighting assistant for a child actor. The photo was taken in February but was running in a spring issue of the magazine; therefore, we had to make the cold air and stark daylight look like the brilliant, warm sun of May. We put a warming filter over the lens (looks like a cross between translucent brown and orange) and shot the poor kid in a t-shirt and shorts. I remember that day like it was yesterday because it was the coldest day of the year and I made my roommate, Franco, go out and buy me some fingerless gloves and a pair of whool socks the night before the shoot!

I found this post to be very interesting and enlightening. I am still in love with photography, and I love to manipulate the light. My favorite thing to do is to put the camera on a tripod at night and just keep the shutter open. It always amazes me how the dark 'black' sky turns out to be a deep purple or orangy-blue, etc., when you really let the light of the sky burn its way into the film.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

The light constantly reminds me to look more carefully at how it works with what I'm photographing... as I frequently show up as a shadow in outdoor photos where I don't pay enough attention to where the sun is shining. :-)

Anonymous said...

Light influences mood and reflection of the event/day/moment. Lighting can really make the situation and in a photograph it can capture what the eye cannot.

BlondeBlogger said...

Such an in-depth take on both photos....very perceptive.

How does light influence me? Well, lets just say I could never live in a place like London or Seattle, or any other dreary place.

I thrive on sunlight. I come to life in the spring and summer and go into a hibernation of energy in the fall and winter.