The art of inversion

As an old adage has it, if a scene does not work in colour, it may work in monochrome (i.e. “black and white”). A photographer can usually tell without checking, at least in the majority of cases, whether it would or it wouldn’t, just like a chess player can tell whether a position is strong or not (which doesn’t mean that it necessarily is or that it will prove to be, but anyway). What we’ve never had enough of is intuition about transforming, rather than removing, the colour.

Photography is firmly settled in the digital age now, and an artist’s intuition should be rebuilt from the ground up — if we are to wrest our souls out of this stifling grip, the hackneyed “old metaphor”: the cotton wool of moving water, the azure of oversaturated skies, straight lines bent by an extremely wide-angled lens, etc. ad nauseam, and if you don’t believe me, open a photography magazine at random and you will.

Whereas before a nontrivial mapping of the colour components on the print dies (red/green/blue or cyan/magenta/yellow, whatever) was realised via chemical cross-processing with totally irreversible results, now the mapping is … a function. OK, not a formula, you end up pulling the curve with the mouse in a few places, but still: it is a function. A FUNCTION, any function. Almost. Here’s what happens when you inflict two dips on the otherwise straight line:

You risk nothing. You can reset the characteristic at any time and try again, or give up. So what does this achieve?

This one boosts your blacks much and mid-tones a little, and it suppresses shadows and low highlights. What you get is a macabre picture of hacked off magnolia boughs bleeding out on eerily white fallen petals. The overall lighting is kind of concave, with the periphery lit up in an inverted vignette… There is something Japanese to the articulation of the shapes and the deathly purple hues of the detailing.

Can we develop a new intuition? Can we invert the soul?

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