BERLIN — The color of the light is something that is easy to take for granted. A person might look at a brown chair, say, without really stopping to recognize that there isn’t anything inherently brown about it. It reflects the part of the light spectrum that makes up the color brown but in the end it is more a trick of the light than an attribute.
In photographer Elaine Bean’s new show, “Outside the Box,” color is treated as the fluid phenomenon it really is. Working in black and white, bean re-touches her photographs by hand in pastels, adding colors that may or may not have been present at the time the shutter opened.
When photography was a new process and restricted to black and white, it didn’t take long for photographers to try to add the colors that were there. There are many examples of photographs and early motion pictures that were retouched to make them stand out from the rest.
While this is a part of Bean’s thrust, it is not the sole one. A graphic designer by trade, she has been manipulating photographs digitally since before the digital revolution began. While there remains some debate between purists who feel as if photos should remain unaltered, she is quick to point out that most of what is done in Photoshop is based on formerly labor-intensive chemical processes developed in darkrooms over the better part of the last century. For her, the fact that it is easier to do now is no argument against post-processing.
That said, the proliferation of digital cameras has brought with it a proliferation of photographers who, by virtue of their gear more than their eye, are able to produce high quality prints at very little cost or effort.
While, again, a purist might balk at the increase of breadth in the photography world, it can also be seen as an opportunity and a challenge for photographers to push beyond the status quo in an attempt to make their voice and eye more clear and distinct. Bean’s aim in her new show is to play upon just that distinction.
At first her plan and process was just to harken back to the old coloring methods with pastels, but along the way she was struck by the notion that she could add more than just color; she could add information and “Outside the Box” emerged as a theme.
Once Bean recognized that she could get a second crack at the color, livening black and whites in such a way as to heighten their vivacity, she realized that she could both literally and metaphorically add another layer to the photo while getting a second shot at the composition.
To that end she extended some but not all of the lines of her photos beyond the frame using ink and pastels. The effect is not so much three-dimensional as it is a highlighting of the subject. The additions leave the work balanced but the viewer a little off-kilter, as some of the extensions are subtle enough to produce a wonder at their construction.
Elaine Bean’s “Outside the Box” will open as part of this weekend’s 2nd Friday Art Stroll at Baked Desserts Cafe and Gallery in Berlin.