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From my journal and letters, my dispatches from the field and now home in Cambridge Massachusetts, as I photograph internally displaced Palestinian refugees in Gaza (once I can enter) and the West Bank, plus their ancestral lands.

I draw this short update from my journal about a presentation I made recently to a photographers’ group I belong to, Whitelight. One of three presenters, I showed samples of what I’ve done since I returned home on October 19, 2018 after 6 weeks in Palestine-Israel. I then facilitated a discussion about black and white vs color photography, a topic affecting many photographers now that digital technology makes conversion so simple.

PHOTOS (latest photo post, as of December 3, 2018)

November 20, 2018, Tuesday, Cambridge MA (journal)

REPORT

Last evening [November 19, 2018] at Whitelight, I presented my prints from the refugee series, sequencing them earlier, offering in words just the title and the subtitle (“On Our Way Home,” about internally displaced Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, later Gaza), holding each print of the nine up and passing them around. (I wish to resist the incessant and often self-defeating habit of many photographers, “This is a photograph of… I made it when….It is about…”) 

I then described how I made the series and what I intend, with lots of discussion. One central question is my BW-color scheme, how well does this works (Sy noticed the partial BW-partial color image from the Bedouin series, no discussion of this unfortunately.) I’d forgotten that I’d sent a sample comparison series to the Whitelight group earlier while in Palestine-Israel, getting feedback only from Suzi.

yousef-color-bw

Yousef Albaba in color and black and white

Questions included (some during my presentation, some later in the evening)—how I gain access to people; how I develop trust; honoring requests to not include certain photos (like N’s impaired brother and nephews which he feels would embarrass the family); whether BW accentuates suffering and thus distorts the reality of lives, extending or magnifying them, thereby falsifying their lives; and a variety of other issues about BW-color.

I did not show my directory which helps me keep track of who and where I’ve photographed, or my crude mockup of how a page might look in the book I intend to publish.

Mock up of page showing BW-color schema

Nor did I show the information I’d compiled to aid my search for ancestral locations. In this I’d added BW historic photos to orient me to what I might find at the sites.

Refugee project locations

And we ran out of time to watch a representative video of my tour thru Mevo Beitar, an Israeli agricultural community (moshav) built on or near the destroyed Arab village of Al Qabu. I videoed and photographed in several Israeli communities and will include these in the final book.

 

DISCUSSION OF BLACK AND WHITE VS COLOR

Which led directly to the second half which I facilitated, BW and color. I chose to use the popular education model which draws out what people already know by fostering interaction. Brainstorm: what comes to mind when you hear BW, graphically and emotionally? Who comes to mind as exemplars of BW photography? Questions for discussion: why choose one modality over another? Can you switch your seeing modes when choosing one over another? Is there a difference between choosing a scene to later convert to BW and deciding only later in post production to convert? This seemed rich to me. (Now I regret I’d not asked someone who could print better to transcribe the responses, and I regret not making a record of the responses because they were helpful.) I then showed examples of BW photography, many new to me that I’d uncovered researching the topic.

Among my discoveries and questions from this conversation, during the analog era when we had to choose BW or color film, did this choice affect what we photographed? That the brain may respond dramatically differently to color vs BW. And that there are grades or variations of BW renderings. Consider the differences between Sabastiao Salgado, W. Eugene Smith, and Dorothea Lange—silvery, chiaroscuro, and flat, respectively.

I believe people appreciated the open discussion following this more formal part. My challenge as facilitator was to open the floor to all without anyone dominating or remaining quiet. Some of my colleagues are chatter boxes, some pontificate, while others remain silent. Some offer astute observation and ask searching questions. I could have handled this problem better. I also forgot to invite people to exhibit their BW photos they brought in; I’d earlier sent an email inviting all to bring their own prints.

Earlier, at the end of Sy’s presentation about Christian churches, I asked him, Sy, with your background what motivated you to photograph churches? I felt a slight gasp from the group, as if I’d opened something others were thinking about but were embarrassed to say. Well, he explained (paraphrasing), Jewish services and synagogues tend to be rather dour; I find the Christian churches full of life and color. Plus, they’re exotic to me who grew up with synagogues.

Likewise, during Rich Lapping’s presentation I asked him if he knows before he goes out to photograph whether he’ll render color or BW. I believe he answered that he carries two cameras, one adapted for infrared, the other for BW or color and makes the decision in the field.

Godafoss, Richard Lapping

This morning [November 20, 2018] I reviewed what I and the group did last evening for next steps in my refugee project:

NEXT STEPS

For more feedback show this initial set of prints to Nidal and Amahl (who are Palestinian American; Nidal was born in Aida refugee camp where I photographed and resided), and perhaps others locally who struggle for Palestinian rights, like Rick, Steve and Barbara, and the media group of Jewish Voice for Peace-Boston. Maybe form a focus group (oh, Louise, where are you now when I most need you?) with specific questions.

Use the set to form a photographers’ group, inviting people working on a specific project—Jon, Linda, Melinda, Suzi, others from my recent photography workshops; Sy, Rich, Carla, of Whitelight; Lou, Don, Reggie, others from the old Struggles Against Racism Collective; Social Documentary Network and the Photographic Resource Center.

What next to print? What videos to edit? To write? To research? To seek feedback on and from? Any interim versions like slideshows or print exhibits while heading toward publication of a book? When to return to the region, to do what? How to enter Gaza? How to effectively raise the obvious question of why Jews everywhere have the right of return to Israel, even if they have no provably connection, while Palestinians in Palestine-Israel and the diaspora, even if they have documentation of residency in the general region, have absolutely no right of return? Why do so few question Israel’s right to control access to Gaza, which affects me since I need to enter Gaza for my project?

MAP-Expropriated land by JNF

Jewish National Fund (JNF) confiscated 2,500,000 donums (1 donum=1/4 acres) which belonged to 372 Palestinian villages, comprising 55% of the registered refugees. Source of Parks’ identification: Noga Kadman, “Erased from Space and Consciousness-Depopulated Palestinian villages in the Israeli-Zionist Discourse” (Master’s thesis in Peace and Development Studies), Dept of Peace and Development research, Goteborg University, November 2001.

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What motivates me to do all this?

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