“Color is joy” – Ernst Haas
Since the advent of the now-iconic Kodachrome film in 1936, photographers have had the ability to transcribe their surroundings in full, realistic color.
To celebrate our annual Color Photography Award, open for entries until the end of the month, we’ve surveyed winners, finalists, and the most eye-catching entries from all our previous awards, and selected 10 stunning images of all styles, that showcase the power of color photography.
Once widely reviled and dismissed as ostentatious, lacking in authenticity, and by some photographers, as a hindrance in their ongoing battle for their medium to be considered a genuine art form, color now enjoys a level of ubiquity that perhaps even its most fervid early champions couldn’t have imagined.
From vivid fragments amongst the grey of the streets, to painting-like landscapes, color transcends genres, used by practitioners from across the photographic spectrum.
Color might bring to mind, vivid, saturated hues, and indeed, such an aesthetic can no doubt be impactful. In this stunning image, Paris-based photographer Wengpeng Lu utilizes the multi-hued backdrop perfectly, emphasizing the dynamic kinetics of the silhouetted ballers.
Yet likewise, it can be subtle: more lifelike. It was this very quality that made Kodachrome so revolutionary (used by the likes of Helen Levitt for much of her chromatic output; Alex Webb, in Mexico, and Steve McCurry to capture the kaleidoscopic shades of India) and though the iconic color reversal film has long been discontinued, (due to plunging sales attributed to the digitization of photography), there are numerous practitioners who have kept its essence alive.
Costas Kariolis’ subtle portrayal of a beach landscape in eastern England, exemplifies the power of an understated palette. Rendered with artistry and sensitivity, the arresting scene is characterized by subtle, natural hues, shaped by the late afternoon glow, bringing to mind the work of the great luminist painters, as well as Joel Meyerowitz’s iconic depictions of Cape Cod.
Likewise, Marco Di Stefano’s iridescent tree (the 1st prize-winning image from our 2021 Color Photography Award), its crimson shades, bright, yet authentic, accentuated by the understated pastel complexion of the backdrop, precipitated by the granular realism of the analog format.
“In nature, light creates the color. In the picture, color creates the light.” Hans Hofmann
Color can be transcribed in a variety of ways, each engendering a different outcome. Yohan Terraza’s captivating portrayal of a French forest is rendered with such artistry and appreciation of texture and tone, that at first glance, it’s ostensibly a painting, the inception of one of the Dutch masters rather than that of a modern-day photographer.
However, it’s important to note that color alone does not a great image make. It can only be properly captured if the photographer understands light, whilst timing and framing are equally fundamental tenets in creating an arresting composition.
Nicholas Wong’s image is a perfect marriage of all such elements, evoking the work of Saul Leiter, and Ernst Haas, two of color’s most important pioneers. The tight framing, and masterful manipulation of light and shadows, accentuate the rich crimson of the awning, which mirrors that of the Taxi sign, and, less prominent, but equally compelling, the subtle hues, filtered by the front and rear windshields.
In recent times, the introduction of new post-production tools and techniques has opened up a world of possibilities. Visual artists now have the ability to use color in a myriad of creative ways, blurring the intersections of real and imaginary, and thus, pushing the boundaries of the photographic image.
Color can be bold and bright, or it can be subtle and lifelike; used to accurately portray a subject or scene, or to depict a new world, different from our own. Ultimately, however, what unites all great color imagery is harmony. The elusive balance of light and tone that engenders something truly extraordinary.
“Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.” – Wassily Kandinsky
All images © their respective owners
NB: The 2022 Color Photography Award is open for entries until June 30. Enter here.