as cold as it looks

This is the photo of the month for December, 2007, from jgrantmac’s flickr site.

as cold as it lookssome rights reserved 
attribution & non-commercial
A photograph need not elicit positive emotions from us to succeed as art.

This month’s photograph utilizes harsh tones (though it isn’t quite black and white) instead of pleasing colours. It is less decorative than last month’s photo, but more dynamic.

jgrantmac writes,

I was nuts to be taking pictures this day. It was so cold my battery froze, among other things. The wind was brutal.

But I didn’t need to tell you that:  you can see it for yourself!

jgrantmac comes close to photographing the wind here. The diagonal streaks of snow across the sidewalk immediately signify a windy day.

Note also that the photograph is overexposed — washed out on the right. It thus conveys the harsh light of a Canadian winter, where the sun reflects painfully off the white snow without producing any perceptible warmth.


What I’m describing is the photograph’s value, as art theorists use the word. (Not as economists use the word!) Value is an element of composition along with colour, line, line direction, shape, texture, space, etc.

Value refers to “the lightness and darkness throughout the piece, characterized by tint, tone, and shade.”

According to The Alphabet of Art, value is the most important element for establishing a mood. This month’s photo has a very different value than last month’s photo, and thus creates a very different mood:

  Elements   Resultant Mood  
  Last month’s photo     one dominant, cold colour  
  horizontal lines
  This month’s photo   harsh tone, almost B&W  
  diagonal lines
  creates tension

“As cold as it looks” doesn’t make us feel all warm and cheery. It creates a very different mood — and achieves it very artfully.


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