Wednesday, January 10, 2007


If there is one book (as opposed to photo-book) that changed my attitude and approach to colour and colour photography, this is it. As well as helping me with my own colour work, it helped me see in part why some colour photography works and some just doesn’t.

Chromophobia by David Batchelor is a short, fairly quick read, but it covers a lot of ground. It’s quirky and thought provoking. The gist of the book is that the Western (art) world has had a fear of and prejudice against colour for the last couple of thousand years. He traces a line from your kindergarten teacher telling you to make sure you “colour inside the lines” back to Aristotle and Plato’s comments about colour being merely cosmetic (often conveyed in photography as "colour captures the clothes but b&w captures the soul...") and to the primacy of line and form over colour.

Batchelor then takes off on a number of different tangents: from the rigidity of colour theory in art to Le Corbusier renouncing his Eastern induced intoxication with colour after a feverish encounter with the Parthenon to Dorothy falling from the grey world of Kansas into the colour of Oz to the problems language has in describing and containing colour.

From some reviews and articles:

“The central argument of Chromophobia is that a chromophobic impulse - a fear of corruption or contamination through color - lurks within much Western cultural and intellectual thought. This is apparent in the many and varied attempts to purge color, either by making it the property of some "foreign body" - the oriental, the feminine, the infantile, the vulgar, or the pathological - or by relegating it to the realm of the superficial, the supplementary, the inessential, or the cosmetic.”

“Urban life is filled with "color rhyming" moments; you walk down the street and a yellow truck appears in your frame of vision just as a man in a yellow jacket turns into view and suddenly you feel the ineffable. That's what the book is really about -- honoring moments like that.”

There's also an NY Times review here

Following are a few ideas and comments from the book that stay with me:

That line and form are linked to language – whereas colour precedes words and antedates civilization.

“That car might happen to be bright yellow, but no more than that bright yellow might happen to be a car.”

The essential difference between colour and colours (and where so much colour photography fails in recognizing that difference)

"To fall into colour is to run out of words"

Despite the Hollywood perception, research shows most of us dream in colour.

“It is a land that is still there to be glimpsed in the flare of brilliant colour, be it in the surfaces and fragmented reflections of the street or in the art that finds a way of harnessing this immaterial material so that we may look a little more closely and for a little longer.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're kidding. People dream in color? How absurd!