This is a short post reflecting on the outcomes of my look at colour versus monochrome and the square image format in my project practice. Over the past week I did a short ‘experiment’ with the meaning of the signified in my work by shooting and cropping square format (I rarely crop), and converting some images to monochrome. I wanted to see if I could ‘simmer’ images down to their meaning by changing my shooting frame and removing colour. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while and this module, with it’s focus on content in terms of context, seemed a pertinent time to try it out.

I have used monochrome in my personal practice (as opposed to my commercial) in the past and early on in it was the mainstay of my visual language in my work. My earliest photographic inspirations (Fay Godwin, Raymond Moore, and Bill Brandt) were all monochrome photographers. This was soon overcome by colour, which I found to be more expressive for the kind of work I wanted to make. This could well relate to my fine art training in my early student days where I focused on painting.

So, these recent experiments were a re-visitation borne of curiosity to test a little for myself Barthes notion of the signified within his thinking around semiotics.

I also wanted to show some actual direct comparisons here (see the images at the top of this post and those below) of these image variations.

It’s evident that the additional emotive elements of colour are more pertinent for me in this work.

As I’ve stated, I respond to colour as a photographer: juxtapositions, harmonies etc. These things have become a part of my instinctive visual lexicon more than I realised, in a sense, and this little sojourn in the realm of monochrome has really made that plain to me. Don’t get me wrong monochrome has it’s place, but in the context of my own work colour offers me more to explore in terms of the juncture between the real and the fictional/poetic that I am working with for my M.A. practice.

Monochrome works when there is, in my opinion, a direct honesty being sought in the world by the photographer, where that has less constructed meaning – to use a loose writing metaphor: for me monochrome is the biography, colour is the autobiography. Monochrome is more honest whereas colour allows me to add a layer of fictional or semi-fictional reality. That’s the reason why monochrome won’t be part of my practice moving forward.

Top: from SYNTHESIS sequence. Bottom: from MERIAM AND ANDERS sequence. James Bellorini 2020.

However, as can be seen from the images presented here, the square format almost exacerbates these qualities. Not just for me but, it seems, for viewers too. It is almost as if the implication of a world beyond the frame is heightened, that we are viewing what we are ‘allowed’ to see. The fictional boundary of the scene or image is almost amplified by constriction of the frame. Perhaps it is because it so deliberately ‘limits’ our viewpoint.

Perhaps, in terms of my gaze, which we are also exploring this week in a wider context, it offers a more ‘poetic’ viewpoint: portraying tantalising hints of the totality of something.

I am not sure if this is something I will use in my photographic lexicon exclusively, but it has pushed me to explore shooting further with the 1:1 aspect ratio dialled into my medium format Fuji camera.