Color Field #5 – 20″ x 24″ one-off casting of light onto Fujicolor Crystal Archive II paper

For nearly two centuries, photography has been the nexus of light, subject, and camera. In the digital era, one can argue that computer should be added to this trinity. Of greater passion to me is the question—what remains of photography when we strip away the subject, camera, and computer? Only light remains—or, more specifically, only color as it emerges from the shadows remains.

Color and shadow have long danced as my muses. I am obsessed equally with color and with shadows—an obsession that has endured the evolution of my work as a photographic artist from darkroom alchemist to digital technologist back to darkroom alchemist.


Color Field #2 – 20″ x 24″ one-off casting of light onto Fujicolor Crystal Archive II paper

In my new Color Field series, I cast off all that is photographically unnecessary—subject, camera, and computer—so that I may be the alchemist who fuses color and shadow directly into a print. Each Color Field is a one-off 20” x 24” original—created by casting light through colored gels directly onto photosensitive paper (specifically Fujicolor Crystal Archive II). Each print is processed individually in traditional RA-4 chemistry in my darkroom at home. Yes, I said “darkroom.”

By creating each Color Field directly onto the presentation material I detour widely from the realm of digitally cloned prints. That I must work in complete darkness to arrange the gels and the tiny light bulbs directly on the paper immediately before each exposure contributes to the non-digital nature of the series. There is literally no way to make the same print twice. Try as I might, something always moves in the dark as I prepare for the next exposure.

Syl-Arena-Color-Fields-#10-9908 - full res-3

Each ‘Color Field’ must be photographed to show it on the web.

I celebrate the irony that I had to photograph my prints in order to show them on the web. Many people who see my Color Fields need to hear me explain more than once that the photos on the wall have no intermediary digital or film files—what they see is the entire workflow.

I continue to wonder if my Color Fields are better classified as paintings written in light? This is a question that I look forward to exploring as the series progresses. Certainly, akin to the color field painters of the 50s, I am inspired by the abstraction of the medium and by the substitution of impulse and expression for subject.


Color Field #6 – 20″ x 24″ one-off casting of light onto Fujicolor Crystal Archive II paper

As physical objects, Color Fields challenge the common assumption that images can be digitally broadcast for equal access to anyone connected to the net. They confront the viewer with the limitations of media in our digital era. The prints possess deep, yet subtle, interplays of color and shadow—the delicacy of which is beyond the gamut and resolution of typical computer monitors and cell phones. As with fractals, the closer you look at a Color Field, the more detail you see.

My Color Fields are very much a work in progress. The abstractions are so new, their poetry and beauty continue to be revealed to me. New visions for the use of my gels and lights come to me daily. Of course, no matter how much I try to control the process, I am reminded every time I pull a wet print from the processing tube and watch the dull, lifeless emulsion dry into a magical union of colors, that our creativity is not truly ours. Rather our creativity is the display of connections and actions that we cannot see when we work in the dark.

Click here to see more of my Color Field photographs.

4 Responses to Getting Personal: Color Fields

  1. CharlestonDave says:

    These are beautiful, Syl, thanks for sharing them, and best of luck with your new project!

    I’ll be particularly interested in seeing how this work informs your more traditional representational photography.

  2. J.K. Hoffman says:

    I’m gobsmacked by the beauty of these… Prints? Artworks? What do you call something like this? Whatever it is, they’re gorgeous.

    Are any for sale? I’d imagine they’re well outside my price-range, but I’d love to know how much money I need to start saving to own one of these.
    Also, if you have any kind of contest on-line with one of these as a prize, I promise to use all of my computer knowledge and meager programming skill to game that contest and own that prize. ;)

  3. Hey Syl, thanks for the great read and wonderful images. I will keep coming over for more updates on this project.
    Good luck and have fun!
    Happy shooting :)

  4. This is brilliant. Photography without a camera. I’m starting a commercial photography business providing portraiture and product photography to businesses, brands and professionals my site

    This work has inspired me to look at more creative avenues to take my personal photography. I miss experimenting!

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