Rain. New York City. Greenwich Village.
When the sky opens up over the city, urban wanderers glide over the surface of streets slick with shadowy memory.
And every drop of rain holds the world in its slippery grasp.
Recently, someone who saw this same photo in black and white inquired if I also had the image available in color. Since I shoot in color and convert my color photos to black and white after the fact (with a few exceptions), I went through my library and found my color rendition of this scene. I was struck with how the photo evoked a different set of emotions when viewing it in color. I have come to love it in black and white to such an extent that my memory of the scene as it occurred also plays out in my mind in black and white. However, I remember the initial appeal of this candid moment was the strong bursts of color against the winter-bare trees. The day was bitterly cold: the type of damp cold that seeps down to the bone and in one short moment, the street erupted with color. It was such a fleeting moment but it created such a spark.
On a related note, I read an interesting essay by Joel Meyerwitz a few days ago on the New York Times Lens Blog called A Question of Colors - Answered. Meyerwitz is part of a current exhibition in London which compares some of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s black and white images with work by other noted photographers who have been influenced by him but have chosen to work in color for a large part of their photography careers. The curator of this particular exhibition states that: “This exhibition will show how Henri Cartier-Bresson, in spite of his skeptical attitude regarding the artistic value of colour photography, nevertheless exerted a powerful influence over photographers who took up the new medium and who were determined to put a personal stamp on it. In effect, his criticisms of colour spurred on a new generation, determined to overcome the obstacles and prove him wrong.”
It’s interesting to me that color photography inhabits a more defensive realm than black and white photography especially when it comes to street photography. I think that both have different psychological effects on the viewer and both can be just as valid in terms of having artistic value. However, it’s definitely not a simple debate.
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