A Question of Color

In the world of photography, there is much debate over which is best: film or digital, color or black and white? These are questions that intrigue me, partly because I cannot indiscriminately answer them. When working with film, I feel an intimate, almost parental, relationship with each image I produce. I cradle the image from its conception at exposure through its chemical development, and see its darkroom maturation into a full sized printed image. Film is a more time consuming process, but the results are worth it; true black and white prints are brilliant. On the other hand, digital is much more versatile and quick to publish. I can shoot 600 frames at one event, come home and after only a few hours of post-processing work, I can publish those images to the internet for the world, literally, to see. When working with digital, you also have the option of working in color or in black and white. Many photographers argue, and I would agree, that when the end product is a black and white print, film is the obvious choice, but if your ultimate goal is online publication, how does a photographer choose?

Thus far, I have been shooting exclusively digital, and working mostly in color because Trinidad is an intoxicatingly colorful place, especially during Carnival season. Recently, however, I shot the National Kalinda Stickfighting Finals and had myself wondering. The Boismen's costumes were mostly satin and all brightly colorful, adorned with mirrors and other bright additions, meant to distract the opponent. After reviewing my photographs of the night, I found that the adornments and bright costumes were doing just that -- distracting me from what I wanted my eye to focus on: the facial expressions of the competitors. It was a difficult decision, though, because some photographs I thought actually worked better in color than in black and white. Take the photograph, above, of a defeated boisman smiling and bleeding onto the collar of his costume as he exits the Gayelle. I think this image works well in color partly because of the hazy feel to the image and partly because there is just so much going on (the bright lamp in the background, the blood drips on the collar, the photographers and concerned teammates swarming him) that everything around him is almost spinning, but his inward expression of content with a good match comes through in color, and I was concerned that converting to black and white would make the blood stains less obvious.

Other images, like this one below, however, I think work much better in black and white.

In the color version of this photograph, I find the bright yellow jersey panels and headband to be too distracting, so I prefer the black and white version where the eye is drawn first to the faces, and secondly around to the rest of the image. In the end, I chose to publish all the images in black and white because I like the atmosphere in black and white. In color, I feel like I'm focused on the novelty of the bright costumes, or focused too much on the bright red blood in some of the images, but in black and white, I get an old newspaper photograph of a boxing match sort of feel from them and the costumes, and the blood fade to the background. Since one of my overall goals is to, through photography, conveying the universality of humanity around the world, I feel that working in black and white, in this case, makes more thematic sense.

It's going to be a tricky question for me to answer as I progress through the semester. Should I continue to shoot in digital for the ease of online publication and versatility in deciding whether to publish in color or in black and white after-the-fact, or should I shoot in film and commit myself to black and white before even reviewing the images. If I continue to shoot digital, should I publish more of my images in black and white in an attempt to strip away the distractions of "paradise" and costumes to get at, instead, the people that live here, or would I be crazy to leave out such a big part of the local culture, particularly in photographs of mas, by not taking full advantage of all the colors that weave themselves into this culture? For now, I think I'll take it one photoset at a time, and see where the images take me.

For more images from the National Kalinda Stickfighting Finals, click on either of the above images, or click here.


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