Colors and Photoshop: week 1

I enjoy color. I like playing with color wheels. I like exploring hues, tints, and shades. I fully admit that I have and will continue to lose numerous hours perusing color. But occasionally I need to be pulled back, like last week during critiques when Prof. Petrik commented that choosing the red for the sidebar was probably one step too far. So now I’m thinking about how I can revise my type assignment to tone down the other colors to able to keep the red sidebar, and as always trying to plan ahead for the final project site and how to balance the colors I want to use with the idea of making the most appropriate and aesthetically pleasing palette.

I’m looking forward to developing some Photoshop skills thanks to the lynda tutorial, if only to do very basic things like normalizing the color of old documents–something I would have liked to have done for last week, but had no idea how to execute. Beyond that I’m thrilled with the idea that I’ll be able to tweak/alter/colorize images, especially the early photographs I study. I have no qualms about doing so either. While dust specks, streaks, and blemishes can give scholars clues about a photographer’s technical ability or the conditions under which the image was made and handled, presenting that image on the web is a completely different issue. There I want to show the best representation of the image that I can, which is not to say that I’ll take crazy liberties and decide to color Andrew Johnson a charming fuchsia.

Early photographers exerted a tremendous amount of control over the images they produced: commonly they would wipe plates clean when an exposure was not to their liking and they endeavored to create the highest quality images possible. I cannot imagine that one would be pleased by evidence of imperfections and go out of his/her way to preserve the flaw unless there was sufficient (mostly meaning financial) reason. Here is one case where I think alteration is perfectly valid and ideal. The Library of Congress (in all their wisdom) has digitized a good chunk of their daguerreotype collection as black and white images based on photographs taken of the originals years ago. The black and white versions make it difficult to impossible to see differences in tone and coloration, let alone any hand-painted embellishment or the color and texture of the cases, all important information for a historian studying the object. If I were able to alter the black and white image to restore these subtleties and then use the altered image as part of my web project I would both be respecting the original skill and artistry of the photograph while presenting an ideal image for the viewers–a better alteration to my mind than the one made by the LOC when they rendered the images black and white.

Designing for the web is about creating the best possible viewer experience in all aspects: navigation, typography, and image presentation among others. To me, there is an acceptable divide in approach between presenting an image as an element on a webpage, designed to visually support a body of text (the most common usage for images), and presenting an image as an artifact and object of investigation in itself. I think the latter demands greater attention to noting any alterations (including historical ones) and the highest quality image to see every bit of detail, which is a different conversation altogether.

*Update: I commented on Geoff’s post “Fear and Loathing in History” and Jeri’s this week.

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