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The art of seeing #8: Making sense of a chaos of color is like making sense of jazz

(Image credit: Benedict Brain)
About Benedict Brain

(Image credit: Benedict Brain)

Benedict Brain is a UK based photographer, journalist and artist. He is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and sits on the society’s Distinctions Advisory Panel. He is also a past editor of Digital Camera Magazine.

As you may have noticed if you read this column regularly, there’s been a minimalist and monochromatic aesthetic running through the images I’ve shared and talked about. 

It’s true that I am drawn to simplifying the elements in my frame, but that’s not the only way I look at the world. So this month I thought I’d go to the other extreme, and share a cacophony of chromatic chaos.

This was captured in a small town on the Costa Rican coast. I was simply wandering the streets with an open eye, when I was struck by the overwhelming madness of shape and colour in this otherwise simple suburban scene. The pinks, yellows
and blue hues displayed a magnificent intensity that jumped out at me, yelling to be photographed. Likewise, the array of shapes revealed some wonderful contradictions, from the organic, natural curves of the foliage to the hard lines of the high-security boundary fencing and its sharp, aggressive barbed wire.

I often enjoy thinking of image-making with reference to music; I’ve even run workshops where we tried to interpret a piece of music through the language of photography. It’s a very interesting experiment, and I’d recommend giving it a go. I made this image at a time when I’d rediscovered the joys of jazz. A little like the seemingly chaotic sounds of improvised jazz, I was still able to find harmony, order and structure in this composition. After the initial ‘shock’ of confusing, overwhelming colour, shape and texture, there is a sense of balance.

The exposure was relatively simple. I was working handheld, so my biggest priority was keeping the shutter speed in check to avoid any movement.

Handling the colours was a little tricker. I actually found I was able to get more intensity by slightly over-exposing the image and pushing towards the lighter end of the tonal scale in Camera Raw. It prints spectacularly well on Fotospeed’s Smooth Cotton 300 Signature paper, and retains the intensity I had hoped for. BB

• Other articles in the Art of Seeing series

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