Monday, October 25, 2010

The Psychological Effect of Colour in Photographs

I'm not sure if this is a common reaction, but I certainly notice it in myself. I don't know why, but I find it surprisingly hard to relate to people in historical black and white photographs. 

There's no good reason for this - human nature hasn't changed much in the past hundred years (if ever), and it's a fair bet that if you'd been born then, you'd have ended up just like everyone else at that time. But for some reason, when you take away the colour, it stops being a world I can relate to and becomes instead some point in the vast prehistory of places far removed from the present. For colour photos, however grainy, the world is recognisable. It's a place that you conceivably could be in.

Don't believe me? Compare these two photographs.

Below is a photo of some World War I prisoners of war. The people in it could be your grandfather. Change the clothes slightly, and they could be you:

Now compare the same photo in greyscale:

Such a trivial difference. And yet, it may as well be another planet.

I think this is part of the reason that World War I always seemed like a faraway country of which we know nothing, so to speak.

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