Tuesday, 28 April 2015

POV: The Agony (or Ecstasy) of Choice

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
The agony (or ecstasy) of choice between color or monochrome usually hits me when I start editing my images on returning from one of my photo expeditions/workshops or from a personal project/assignment. It's a feeling probably shared by a multitude of photographers at some point...but with me, it has recently become quite acute.

Not too long ago, images generally screamed 'color' at me whilst making them or when I edited them, but that's not the case any longer.

While photographing the Mother Goddess ceremonies in Vietnam last month, I was ambivalent about making that choice during my photo shoots. Despite the flamboyance of the mediums' costumes and the brilliant color of the altars, shrines and religious displays, the jury was still out as far as I was concerned.

I decided that I'd work first on squarish and simpler portraits of the mediums (see The Spirit Mediums) keeping them in vivid colors as I originally shot them...but left open the choice of monochrome vs color for another photographic series which will be more documentary in style, and have less portraiture. I am currently leaning towards monochrome, giving it a more photojournalistic style, and this means I have to process two versions of each image for the time being.

In this particular instance, it's not only an aesthetic case, or a choice of travel vs documentary... but is also one that has to take into consideration the quality of the images. The ceremonies are usually held in temples (pagodas) where the harsh sunlight (if held during the day), where the hideous tungsten lights dangling from the ceilings or walls are difficult to avoid; where votive material and gifts to the deities are stacked on one or more side, providing a busy background, and where assistants who, while doing their job, often intrude in the scenes.

Processing the images to monochrome diminishes the messy impact of these visual issues, and makes them less distracting. That said, does it reduce the 'authenticity' of the ceremonies...in a way, seeing them not as they happened?

I haven't resolved this question yet.