Eye Love Expressing Myself: Polychromo vs Monochrome

Please forgive the pune, or play on words, in the title. Some of my humour comes from my dad who liked wordplays like saying Mood Gorning and Nood Gight to the two giggling blondies he’d spawned. And Sir Terry Pratchett should take some of the blame because he deserves it. Serves him right, may he be in peace. My dad too.

Now that I’ve explained why I alone find the title of this post funny; allow me to explain the title itself and the purpose of this post:

I’ve been practising vanity. I’m Ridiculously Good Looking but I haven’t allowed myself to enjoy it, so now I’m practising enjoying it.

I have these big blue blinkers on my face, right where people look when they’re talking to me. I haven’t celebrated them, though they are absolutely worthy of high praise and adoration. I’m trying to rectify that now by wearing make-up, taking selfies and photo editing some of the selfies to make my own beauty into art. Is that vanity? Well, I certainly hope that it is because even this somewhat introverted form of vanity requires quite a lot of effort from me. It’s doing wonders for my self-esteem though, so it’s at least energy well-spent.

A little while back I had my silver hand mirror and my tweezers out because another way that I’m celebrating my beauty and experimenting with vanity is with beautification practices. On this day I’d decided to curl up in my big green reclining chair in the sun in my art room and pluck my eyebrows for the first time in literally years. My eyebrows are very blonde – I felt silly to pluck these all-but-invisible hairs from my face. Now that I’m wearing make-up regularly, I can see how a smooth brow ridge is more aesthetically pleasing than a furry field of clumped up eyeshadow. I now understand why eyebrow plucking exists and so I shall become a plucker.

A ray of sunshine fell across my iris as I was plucking and because I was high I became mesmerised by it. My iris lit up, sparkling like a blue jewel. The sunshine penetrated the eyelid and made it glow from within with soft oranges and pinks. My eyelashes reflected the light with a gloss and gleam that flirted with me and I realised that for years now I’ve been full to bursting with a yearning to somehow turn my eyes into art and not allowing myself to do so because that would be vain and I’m not allowed to be vain –

Next thing I knew I had my phone camera on macro function and I was using the hand mirror to see the reflection of my phone screen. With this slightly crazy-making but engagingly entertaining set-up I took a series of photos of my eye until I was laughing at myself for all the weird contortions I was doing in my chair in an attempt to get the light, the camera, the mirror and myself all into the right position for a good shot.

This was one of the first of many attempts to get my stoned photography rig to behave as it should by nurturing my ego with a most excellent photo. Uncropped and unedited; the photos are often a little underwhelming.

I’ve done two more eye photo sessions since the first and I’ve been playing with the photos on my phone. This is an important part of my psychological process of practising vanity – photo editing my own image forces me to look at my face or body for long periods of time. I’m finding myself being more forgiving and more accepting of my flaws. An example of this is my nose. I have a deviated septum, which essentially means my nostril cavities are skew and this makes my nose wonky. I hadn’t noticed until an ear, nose and throat specialist told me about it, but now that I’m aware of my squiff snozz I can’t un-see it. At first I felt a little embarrassed about it but slowly I’ve become quite fond of it. Maybe one day I’ll have a nose as fabulously fucked up as my sweetiepie Stephen Fry. When I started my Psychedelic Selfies project I felt self-conscious and insecure about my nose but now I see what a rare bird I am to have this beautiful beak flanked by these exquisite eyes.

I feel insecure about the dark rings under my eyes from chronic sinusitis (possibly related to the deviated septum) and while my face is deceptively youthful-looking, I am one year short of forty and I’ve collected stories around my eyes as wrinkles. I’m even developing some bags under my eyes to store some of those stories in. Everything ages and I am determined to enjoy my aging process rather than feel ashamed or embarrassed by it because it’s not like I have any say in the matter. And anyway, my ears and nose are going to get longer as I age and I’ll need some wrinkles to go with them if I’m ever going to successfully transform into a matriarch elephant.

Now I’ll talk about the polychromo vs monochrome part of the title because a lecture from Catherine on colour theory is what has gathered us together today. You nerds. I love you for reading this far.

Multicolour vs monochrome: Fight!

I’m drawn to colour like it’s one of my people and I can’t imagine a day in which I’m not rocking out on something colour-related. Colour is this ongoing transformative experience for me; a life partner with awesome proportions that I’m lucky enough to be having a relationship with.

Monochrome soothes me. It’s like the living human flesh and blood and sinew and gunky bits have been removed and we’re left with the naked soul of the image. Because monochrome is always in a fabricated image. Nothing in nature – as fas as I’m aware – is truly monochrome; completely lacking in pigmentation or coloured parts. Take a grey rock, grind it up and look at it under the microscope. You’ll see all sorts of colours and prisms in the resulting sand. Monochrome has a sense of esoteria to it that is easily marred by the addition of any colour. It’s that magical feeling that you get when it’s twilight and you’ve had a busy day doing fun stuff and you just stand outside and allow yourself to be immersed in the pleasure of existence. There’s nothing else quite like it.

Monochrome is a mystical and cryptic being that exists in a cage of limitations, while colour is the chaotic wild child of the universe, always emoting and demanding attention:

I feel that the eyelid in the colour version of this eye photo appears more translucent and glowing than in the black and white version.

I feel like only colour can create that effect.

The photo editing software that I’m using to edit these pics is the suite of editing tools in Google Photos, and it’s very cool because the desaturation tool doesn’t always entirely remove the colour from the image. The result is this twilight zone that even Derwent’s Graphitint pencils might be too saturated for. This is the kind of “monochrome” that I enjoy best because colour here is a mischief maker; adding a sense of vitality and energy to the lonely and often listless greyscale.

This photo exhibits the not-quite-fully-desaturated effect that I was talking about. The blood in the upper eyelid can be seen glowing in the ray of sunshine and it appears more pink than it actually is because the neighbouring iris has a hint of cerulean blue that acts as a contrasting colour. Without the salacious rumour of red to give it a hint of vitality, I fell that that eyelid would be less *eye-catching*. (Pun intended)
I played with the colour editing tools to give this macro eye photo an indigo tone. I feel that the result is more emotive than straight-up black and white picture.
I’ve edited this photo to create a sickening yellow tone and I’ve played with the levels of the highlights and shadows to create an unsettlingly intent stare. I was thinking of that episode from the X-Files where the yellow eyed dude squeezes through small spaces to attack people. Clearly that was the most freaky monster for me because it’s the only one that I remember.
For this photo; I chose to use the black pupil as the focal point of the image and so I played with the lighting levels to transform the eyelids into soft mounds that encircle the eyeball, making the pupil into ground zero; the point of impact in the viewer’s mind and the force at the center of the image that acts upon all the others parts of the image. The eyelashes shoot outwards, the fleshy lids ripple and heave and even the eyeball itself pulls back, hiding the majority of itself away within the safety of my skull.
In this eye photo, I’ve allowed the light falling on the lower half of the iris to take center-stage, first by literally positioning it at the center of the image. I then bumped up the contrast because I feel like blue tones appear sophisticated in a high contrast environment whereas reds and yellows can become obnoxious and arrogant. I’ve shed the yellows in favour of magenta, a colour that pairs well with the aquamarine blue offered by the iris.
Colour would have spoiled the timelessness of this image. It could have been taken 40 years ago or 40 days ago – this is because monochrome is better at keeping secrets and hiding hard truths. The development of colour photography over the last century has left clues as to which decade the photo was produced in, whereas black and white photography is more subtle with its tells.
This colour image shows hints of green in the lower left corner, and a rich purple on the inner edges of the eyelids. These colours make those areas interesting. In a monochrome image, these areas are easy to overlook, and with them, those parts of the subject’s story. Why are those colours present in those areas? Why have I chosen to accentuate unattractive bruising instead of “beautifying” it with make-up or editing tools?
I’ve used high saturation with low contrast to give this eye image a sense of purity and innocence. It is as though shadows and darkness cannot find purchase here. In monotone, this image wouldn’t have the baby soft peaches and pinks that truly make this photo so cherubic.
This image had a tight, hurt kind of expression, and there’s a hint of ghosts in the pupil. I’ve tried to draw your eye to the darkest parts of the image; the pupil, the ring around the iris and the deepest dips in the folds and corners where all the gremlins hide. This photo would be less dramatic in colour, and in fact the theatricality of colour may ruin the introspective essence of the eye. It would feel less mysterious, as though colour would give too much away and shame or embarrass the subject. Sometimes I wonder why I’m friends with colour. She’s too honest sometimes.
I played with two controls in the editing suite of the Google Photos app; white point and black point, to control how easily the mid-tones became either black or white when I later bumped up the levels of the highlights and shadows. This allowed me to control the process of brightening and just-about-almost overexposing those areas without having too much of a blown-out effect on the details of the iris. I don’t believe the same effect would work with a colour image – colour is as distracting as a needy cat.
My brain feels a little more jiggy after staring at those lush, flourescent pinks and surf’s up blues. And then I get involved in examining the reflections of my own eyelashes on the jelly dome. Beyond them; the tiny hairs on my nose ridge are lit from behind by the sun streaming in through the blinds – those are the straight lines above my pupil. I feel like the lines of the iris combined with the lines of the blinds scoop the unwitting viewer in towards the pupil at center stage that waits like a spider sitting at the center of a web of light.
This shot lends itself just as well to colour as it did to monochrome. Some shots were like that. It felt like everything in existence settled into itself *just right* so that I could get the shot. I was channeling some inner photographer who’d do anything, no tree too high, no gorge too deep, to get that one shot that makes you think, “This one’s a real beaut.” I only wish my phone was a little better at macro photography; but I shan’t complain about living in a world where my pocket telephone can also be used as a tool to practice my vanity.
I just like how well each element in this shot works with the others. There’s a sense of balance in this photo; as though the whites and blacks perfectly complement and contrast one another and the mid-tones are just kind of chilled out, hanging out in a relaxed manner because the whitest whites and the blackest blacks are the ones putting in the hard work. I’ve pushed the levels of “pop” and “sharpen” to the point where the image becomes just a little jaggedy. This is because it is made of tiny imagination particles. Nothing that we see is true – we don’t see things; we see the light reflecting off of those things. Our perception of the world is ours alone, so we’re each living a completely different experience from the person sitting next to us. This image is *too realistic* which pushes it into the realm of surrealism – that artform which always manages to both attract and repulse the viewer because we identify with the realism part of the image and find the surreal (sur = above) a little bit off-putting, almost too esoteric for our mortal minds to accept.

See what I mean?

Nothing in the art that I show the world is unintentional. Every messy brushstroke, every chaotic scrawl and “editing mistake” is there on purpose. Even the parts of an artwork that I myself am not consciously aware of – my conscious brain has chosen to not address those parts but is comfortable with others seeing those parts; even if they reveal my less appealing personality traits, like hopelessness, despair and self-pity. I leave them in, for all the world to see, because I am not ashamed of those parts of myself. They are my disabilities that I am working to overcome and when you look closely at them, through my art, you’ll see how beautiful those things are. And maybe you’ll be able to find the beauty of your own shortcomings too.

May the wonders within me meet with the wonders within you.

Catherine out.