Monday, April 21, 2008

Colorless, not Emotionless

This incredible portrait by Rene Gelpi (the only one I could find) from an essay on Puerto Rican gang bangers in the 70's got me to thinking... Perhaps one of the reasons color portraits have de-evolved into "deadpan" (and worse) is partly due to the fact that color offers up so much more information when compared to B&W. The wonders of the color palette can serve to distract both photographer and viewer from the very subject of the portrait itself. Breaking the rules can always be put to advantage, it can also make one lazy. That is, why sweat bringing out the most from your subject when a nice backdrop of complementary or contrasting colors can pick up the slack and maybe even throw in a bit of irony juxtaposed against a semi-comatose subject? Again, it can work- to a point.

B&W by its very nature gives one less to work with, which in turn means that you really have to work it, or risk ending up with a bunch of monochromatic tonal values, and little else. No drama, no picture. Maybe the long rumored "B&W Revival" would also be the ticket to jump start its more colorful cousin out of its doldrums.


Tom White said...

This is a fantastic picture. I will see if I can find more work by Gelpi.

I too hope the deadpan portrait loses it's fashion. I think everyone assumes that if August Sander can do it so can they and I agree the results are often dull in the extreme.

No more 'stand there, don't smile' pictures please. And bring on the B&W...

Stan B. said...

Yeah, good luck with that Tom! The only time I ever saw any of his work was back in the 70's in... if memory serves, an issue of Modern Photography mag. What was astounding was not only his incredible visual aesthetic, but his 35mm based prints reproduced as if they were large format quality.

Personally, I don't think August Sander came anywhere near deadpan.
Too much strength and emotion coming from those bad boys.

Personally, I can well do without smiling portraits, it's the "poke me with a stick to see if I'm alive" type that are starting to wear on the nerves...

Tom White said...

"poke me with a stick to see if I'm alive"!

Too true.

I guess I meant that everyone thinks they can copy Sanders and the results end up being, well, rather dull.