Harmonies and Contrasts Hidden in Colors

In my last year of high school, I talked my teacher into letting me do a photography project of my own choice. I ended up walking around the beautiful grounds of my school (which used to be run by nuns and still is on the property of the Congregatio Jesu), trying to capture views and images that would depict the buildings and gardens in a way that the students and teachers, who are used to seeing the place every day, would not expect. One of the images I took was this view of the sky as seen through the old, knobby trees that line one of the pathways.

I liked the eerie mood that the photograph conveyed, which I ascribed to the greyish, sad color of the sky and the bare, desolate trees of late fall. But I was not quite satisfied: the picture did not really show an aspect of my school that was not an ordinary part of daily life; it would not strike anybody as surprising. So I started playing around with Photoshop. And when I increased the contrast of the photograph to the maximum, the outcome was stunning: suddenly, the bland grey of the sky revealed a diversity of colors and hues that had not been visible before.

Section XVI of Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility” highlights a distinctive feature of photography: its ability to reveal features of our surroundings which are not visible to the naked eye. He talks predominately about how close-ups and slow motion disclose “new structures of matter” and “quite unknown aspects within” “familiar aspects of movements” (17) respectively. Photo editing (which is particularly easy with digital photographs) opens up even more possibilities. As Benjamin says, “[i]n most cases the diverse aspects of reality captured by the film camera lie outside only the normal spectrum of sense impressions” (18). The multitude of colors that Photoshop revealed cannot be perceived by the human eye. Picture editing allows us to go beyond this “normal spectrum”; it can alter and broaden the way in which we perceive reality.

In the end, I used this “enhanced” version of my initial photograph for my project, and I paired it with the following quote:

“There are harmonies and contrasts hidden in colors which automatically work together.” (Vincent van Gogh)

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