At the beginning, there was light. And black and white photography has emphasized the lines born out of light, the shapes emerging from darkness. Or is it darkness which carves the world out of light? We no longer know. They are the basic complementary building blocks of our perception, so intertwined that we cannot think about one without the other. The shadows and the highlights, the blacks and the whites, and all the palette of grays.
In black and white photography we grope our way in a world of forms, textures, matters. The world is well grounded, things are in order.
Then, by a twist of the elements a new energy pours into these forms, and a new dimension arises : colours. They lay there, in the tiny display of the visible light for the human eye in the whole known electromagnetic spectrum – that’s to say, the fragmentation of light into wave lengths. We see these visible wave lengths as colours, and this small band is represented by the rainbow. But there are more than meet the eye. Invisible wave lengths flood the world of their invisible lights, and colours maybe. But the human eye seems not to perceive them and our brain is unable to decipher their presence. What we see is not the whole picture. There are also the infrareds, the micro waves, the radio waves, the ultraviolets, the X rays and the gamma rays, as far as we know.
All the coloured beams light all the things around us. But for us, each object has a distinctive colour. If an object is red, for example, it is because red light is rejected, so to speak, from the surface of this object and the other colours are absorbed by it. We can only see refracted colours. How are the real surface of things? What are their intrinsic colour, if any? We can’t know, because we can’t see in the dark. And your camera can’t either. As a matter of fact, cameras don’t record colours. They record light and shadows. Colour photography needs devices to interpret shades of gray and match these shades with the corresponding colours. But it is a translation, an interpretation. That’s why colour hues, in photography, are so characteristic of an era, because techniques and inventions had to include this particular process of interpreting colours, and this interpretation has evolved over time.
Light and colours are not separate entities. They are one and the same. The way we see the world around us is the result of a network of interactions involving sunlight, matters and the way their surface deals with light, and more significantly, our eyes and our brain.