I can’t remember how I heard of it, but I recently picked up a book by the British artist and writer David Batchelor called Chromophobia, published in 2000. Batchelor’s thesis is that color is “the object of extreme prejudice in Western culture” and that this has gone unnoticed. I was curious about this because, though I have had my flings with color, I choose to present my photographs mainly in black and white.
Chromophobia manifests itself in the many and varied attempts to purge colour from culture, to devalue colour, to diminish its significance, to deny its complexity. More specifically: this purging of colour is usually accomplished in one of two ways. In the first, colour is made out to be the property of some “foreign” body — usually the feminine, the oriental, the primitive, the infantile, the vulgar, the queer or the pathological. In the second, colour is relegated to the realm of the superficial, the supplementary, the inessential or the cosmetic. In one, colour is regarded as alien and therefore dangerous; in the other, it is perceived merely as a secondary quality of experience, and thus unworthy of serious consideration.
Batchelor cites a number of artists and others in support of his notion. Probably one could find an equal number saying the opposite, but I’m not familiar with art criticism in this area. In photography, by historical accident of technology, black and white held sway until the 60’s or 70’s, but nowadays it’s almost all color, in “fine art” as well as other genres.
Does the idea of chromophobia ring true at all for you? Although I work in black and white, I feel that is for reasons related to what I want to convey, not because of any antipathy or disrespect for color. But who knows what prejudices lurk in the hearts of our rationalizations?