Half-week homework: Blue

The sky was pale, the day was gloomy
Boy your eyes burned through me
Thought that I knew what colors were
Ha ha ha, ha ha ha
Thought that I knew what colors were
Before I saw you
Ice blue

The Mountain Goats, “Ice Blue”

As John Darnielle illustrates so vividly above, blue carries a unique gravitas, like a dead weight made of air. “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Blue Christmas,” and the vast canon of the black American tradition called the blues epitomize the low-down, down-and-out expression of that particular color you’ll find in tears. It’s the cold blue of winter, the color of mountain snow just before the sun goes away and our ancestral subconscious wonders if it’s ever coming back.

Yet when Ella Fitzgerald scats in to tell us all about the blue skies a-smiling, you can’t help but embrace the other side of blue, the bright-sky feeling of an energetic summer stroll. (Jeffrey Jey’s story about a little guy that lives in a blue world straddles the line, its infectious bounce standing in stark contrast to the depression implied lyrically.) It’s that happy side that makes it the world’s favorite color in survey after survey. What photographer hasn’t been overjoyed to see a clear, cloudless sky the morning of a shoot?

In that spirit, I wish you the weather you want when you set out to complete this week’s photo quest, installment five in the rainbow series. I challenge you to turn your attention to the blue hues around you, enlarging and/or focusing their presence to create the meaning of your art. You can bathe your image completely in its cool waves, or use eye-catching contrasted elements to state your piece, as Medieval and Renaissance painters used ultramarine (the most expensive pigment) to distinguish the robes of the Virgin Mary.

Everything’s blue in this world…

That association, along with the inevitable link between the sky and heaven, adds a strong religious element to certain presentations of blue. That’s not just in the Western world: the Egyptians, too, considered blue to be a color of divinity. Add to that the color’s use in conveying calm, collected thoughtfulness (despite, ironically, being a fairly high-frequency wave in the visible spectrum) and you’ve got quite a meaty opportunity to construct a spiritual message with your camera.

In other upper echelons, blue is also the color of royalty, as in “blue bloods.” The delightful counterpoint, of course, is the working class blue collar aesthetic. Work on a set from each end of the spectrum, and next time someone challenges the validity of photography as art you can show them how much the photographer’s choices matter! It’ll be a more effective argument than simply turning the air blue.

Majesty or mechanic, either way there’s a lot of honor in the mix. The British traditional good luck charms for a bride on her wedding day include “something blue” as a representation of fidelity, and we all hope to have “true blue” friends. The boys* in blue and many other keepers-of-order have latched onto navy-colored (see?) uniforms.

*”Boys” in general, too, come to think of it, though that’s not automatically honorable.

Photo by Macey Sigaty

Got the idea? Grab a Bic pen for planning, pull on a pair of old jeans, and have your own artistic Blue Period. If you’ve got a waterproof camera, this could be its time to shine. Who knows? You might even take home a blue ribbon at the end of the day. At the very least, you’ll have earned yourself a Pabst.

Just be sure to (yes!) share. Post your sweet shots to our Facebook page or to Instagram tagged #mymikescamera #halfweekhomework.

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