When we think of flowers, the first thing that comes to mind are the colors that give each of them their distinct character, beauty, and mood.
But are colors really necessary to make a flower beautiful?
Deep in the heart of North Carolina there exists a place that at one time could have been featured on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Within this monument to ego and opulence, the grounds contain flower gardens and an excellent conservatory.
We’ll reveal the name of this mystery mansion and explore its grandeur in a later post. For now, a vignette: a black and white exploration in floral textures that I discovered on the grounds.
(Click on any picture for a larger view)
When we look upon the world and see colors, we think little beyond that; that’s red, that’s pink, that’s orange. But there’s more.
Red, pink, orange, and all the other colors of the rainbow are simply hues. There are also two other components: saturation and luminosity (brightness).
Saturation is the intensity of a hue. A lemon has a deeply saturated yellow, but if it were only lightly saturated it would appear greyish white, with a tinge of yellow.
Luminosity, or brightness, is how much light an object reflects. For black and white photography, this is where the rubber meets the road. Luminosity is related to saturation, but there are confusing differences.
You might think yellow is a bright color and blue is a dark color. But would you believe the middle of the water lily above is yellow?
It’s not that yellow is really a dark color under the covers. I cheated a bit on editing the picture: I increased the saturation of yellow to make it even more intense (which darkened it a little), then I lowered the brightness of the yellow. In black and white, a dark, saturated yellow comes out as almost black. I could as easily (within limits) make a blue flower look almost white.
Black and white photography is all about contrast, shades of grey, shapes, and textures.
So what is it that defines beauty? Is there beauty here, where there are no colors to distract the eye? I would argue, yes.
Shapes and textures add definition to the world. Black and white doesn’t contain the range of mood-altering colors that a color photograph will, but it has a mood.
Does this mean we should forego color? Is color just window dressing for the shapes and textures that seem to underlie beauty?
Of course not.
Colors bring flavor and feeling to the world. Colors can add contrast in their own way, and a greater range of moods. And not all pictures suit themselves to conversion to black and white; sometimes it’s the colors that tell the story.
I’ll tell that story with color photos of flowers from the mystery site a couple posts from now.
But next up, the mystery mansion…