Washington and Oregon in Infrared by John Custodio
Do I dare venture into the hotly debated topic (in photographic circles, anyway) of color versus black and white? Sure, why not?
Of course, talk with 100 photographers and you'll get 100 different opinions about this, and I'm not sure mine is particularly profound and certainly not unique. Nonetheless, here goes…
I've always found black and white to be more personally expressive. Color is just too doggone realistic and tends to lend itself to the experience of normal vision. That is to say, I've always found that when I look at color photographs I tend to see with my normal eyes rather than my "art experiencing" eyes. In truth, this has more to do with a mindset than with our eyes, but I do find it a common experience. When I view a black-and-white print, I view the world through the photographer's eyes; when I view a color print, I view the world through my eyes. It's an incredibly unfair thing for me to do relative to the artistic input and integrity of color photographers, but nonetheless there it is.
There is an exception, however, and this image by John Custodio is a great example that illustrates the point. It is possible with color work to amend the realities of color and morph them into something artistic. This can be done with hand colored black and white prints, selectively colored images, psychedelic colored images, and even images that are subtly shifted toward a warmer or cooler white balance. In this portfolio, Custodio did something I'd never seen before — he selectively colored infrared images and made what, to my eye, are some fascinating pieces of artwork. He presents us with an abstracted landscape, for sure, but I'm not sure it's any more abstracted than a straight black-and-white print would be.
The challenge with this work is that he presents us with something new, something different, something we've never seen before, something that takes some getting used to. When I first reviewed his portfolio, his coloration treatment slapped me with some force. As I spent more time with his portfolio, I began to see that the contrasting cool tones and warm tones added an emotional content that I found quite realistic — emotionally speaking. For example, I've hiked in the Columbia Gorge and felt exactly what his photograph here shows us: a warm sky and a cool, even dank forest. I find his photograph does a tremendous job of expressing the emotional quality of weather in this environment.
Exploring color is a newfound option for many of us who are now capturing color images for the first time in our photographic careers. Like many of you, for decades I used exclusively black-and-white film to make my black-and-white photographs. I have a purposefully trained monochromatic view of the world. But now that all of my "original captures" are in color via my digital cameras, the possibilities of doing experimental color and, like Custodio did here, discovering new ways of using a blend of black-and-white and color imagery offers a lot of exciting areas to explore. Clearly, not all of them will be successful, but it certainly will be exciting for the next decade or so.
The portfolio can be seen in its entirety in our back issues — print (while still available) and our PDFs for computer, iPad, Android, and other devices. Plus, bonus audio commentary about this image is available to full-access members of LensWork Online.
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