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Why colors?

Barqueiro Azul, from Luiz Braga

In a previous phase of the research, I have posted that I would share the motivation and that were used in the research explained in articles, but instead this process was shared in presentation, talks, lectures and workshops. Without choosing in a conscious way, I was following a historic tradition of sharing knowledge through spoken communication, once I understood I had a voice too, I used it literally in several presentations in Berlin, Prague, New York, Brasília, Frankfurt or wherever people wanted to hear me.

In most of the presentations I have made, I also understood that through the process of the research I have been learning from different sources and gathering references from different areas. Sometimes I felt that who was listening to me was sometimes overwhelmed with the amount of information and the density of what I wanted to present in half an hour. So lately I applied for another step of a research, in which I proposed to write and share the research and the methodology of my work so far. I want to spread the word and share my knowledge with as many people as possible.

In the first texts I will share the motivation of the technical ans aesthetic choices I have made, also in an intent of registering the decision of the research process.

Now, trying to start from the beginning, from the first choice: Why colors? There are two reasons for the use of colors. One of them is technical, and the other one is a matter of making a statement of a visual language, but everything in art, the technical solutions are also the poetic directions that we take. They cannot be separated. I started the research asking myself on how to make lighting on the stage for BIPoC, and the first references I could find were from the film industry.

Color as a decolonial language

The first movie in which I have really noticed the work of photography for black skin was Moonlight. Colors in Between started a couple years after the film premiere, and I could find several articles about it, you can find one here. The whole chromatic development in the movie showed me that color is the solution. Technically, white lighting can be used to give a larger spectrum to the color fidelity, but that is not enough when you understand that lighting is much more a tool of representation than of color rendering accuracy.

With a larger spectrum of references in film photography involving Black performers and a Black staff, references of Tv Series like Insecure from HBO showed me diffferent solutions in lighting that did not include only colorful lighting, but that had different tones as “white light”.

Another initial reference that I found was a video from lee filters, that had a couple tips on how to illuminate darker skin tones ans they made a very simple video with some lavender and yellow tones, always having one side with a different tone from the other, so they already had suggestions of tones as well, and a comparison of the same setting with white or a brown skin.

I have also crossed with various photographers, most of them Brazilian, that gave me a different visual scope in which I could see color as an enriching factor of the visual narrative. Photographers showing scenes and bodies from the Brazilian people helped decolonizing my look to what an image could be, and what kind of narrative was actually interesting for me to pursue. Those references need a post on their own, but the work of Luiz Braga was specially important to me, as well as the work from Bárbara Wagner, not specifically because of the lighting color, but of who was in the portrait and a whole new language of portrait to me.

Color and contrast

Technically, the use of two different filter colors creates contrast. As a basic principle of optics and lighting, contrast is what activates our eyes to something that is worth seeing. It is a vision mechanism, and the whole lighting design is based on principles of contrast. In dark pigments that have a low reflection index, the lighting is mostly absorbed, and just the contrast in lighting intensity might not have the same results as we expect.

Different from the architecture lighting, in Theater the color fidelity is not such an important subject. It is always important to understand the set design and the costume and see how both of them react to the lighting that you are proposing on your design, but white lighting with high color fidelity is not such an important parameter. In theater what is important is that a character, or a performer, is not blending with the background or disappearing in the stage. Even more important to this research, is that Performers of Color are not disappearing when compared to the colleagues with bright color skin.

The colorful light is able to bring this detachment from the background and, it enhances the rendering of the performers bodies volume and skin texture. With this layer of color on the skin, performers of darker and lighter skin tones had a similar visual importance on the stage, diminishing whatever hierarchy of brightness that the uniform lighting could bring.

Filters: Color, transmittance and Saturation

Once the research proved that the use of different colors was a setting that worked for films and also for theater, I decided to make an experiment. With a photo shooting, I could text if the theory corresponded to the reality.

As the first step preparing for the experiment, I had to choose a color pallet. The parameter I chose was to have complementary colors from each side, or at least one warm color from one side and a cold color from the other side. It was also a parameter to use filters with a high transmittance index. Because I was working with the dark pigment on the skin, I thought I high transmittance would be important.

Later on in my last experiments and workshops after two years of development of the research, I understood that this high transmittance index is also a conditional parameter. With brighter skin tones the high transmittance colors work very well. For instance, the very dark skin tones mixed with highly saturated low transmittance filter colors can really bring the rendering of the very black performers to a whole different level. The skin looks sharper and more dramatic when the saturated colors touch the deep black skin.


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