10 July 2012


Years ago, while still an undergrad at the University of Arizona, I took an elective class which I thought might enhance my studies in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.  The class was called Scientific Illustration, and was presented in two parts ~ a semester of photography (using a variety of studio and field cameras, and developing our own film in the adjoining darkroom), and a semester of less technological art ~ drawing with pencil and charcoal, painting with oil and acrylic.  The intent of the course was to train students to illustrate scientific papers ~ their own or someone else's.

Most of us are familiar with the notion that depriving someone of one sense, say eyesight, tends to heighten that person's acuity in the other senses.  Similarly, if one removes from consideration any of the elements of formal art analysis ~ color, space, line, volume, mass, or composition ~ the effect is to dramatize the remaining elements.  For example, all of our photographs were taken on black and white film, not on color film.  The effect was to focus our perception of composition and visual contrast while shooting.

Consider for a moment the photograph above (click to enlarge), taken by Arturo Rivera.  If you were seeing it in color, it would be visually compelling in the manner of many skyscapes.  But seeing it in black and white strengthens the impression of dark weight in the clouds, the feeling of majestic surging motion frozen in time, and the contrasting luminescence of the full moon.  It becomes a work of art.  The eye moves from mass to mass, always returning to the lunar focus.

Color will always arrest our attention, and many images achieve their greatest power in color.  Black and white images have unfortunately fallen out of fashion, hastened along by the ease of digital photography.  Too bad.  If you'd like to immerse yourself in the landscapes of the American West in a different manner, browse through a book of photos by Ansel Adams.  You will find yourself viewing your own world through different eyes.

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