Tuesday, September 9, 2008

There are no accidents

It's that time of year again when political ads saturate the airwaves. I'm probably not the first person to notice this but why is it that many ads divide their portrayals into panchromatic images and monochrome? The politician running the ad is almost always shown in color. This is contrasted with a small grainy image of the opponent, which more often than not is shown in black and white.

I'm curious what's going on here. I know there are no accidents in these ads. They are focus grouped to death before release. So what information is out there that's creating this division? Is there something inherent in b/w that stirs up negative connotations? Is it because many mugshots are b/w, and so an unconscious link to drawn to that? Or is it that b/w is seen as symbolic of the past, while the (presumably rosy if candidate A is elected) future is in color? I'm really not sure, but I think this issue is probably relevant for photographers in their choice between color and b/w.

Any ideas? Anyone?


Anonymous said...

Your 2nd theory is a big part of it--color is real life to lots of folks--the present, the future--black and white is the past, and we're moving forward!

Also, I think it is easier to portray someone negatively, if you have unfavorable images, in b/w. Black and white cuts to the chase, to the meat of the image, the form, the expression, with no colorful distractions. Usually in these ads, you are "directed" instantly to some sort of awkward grimace of the opponent, often looking like he/she just told a lie and is suddenly pooping in his/her pants and planning to lie about that too.

Olov said...

For the sake of thought, there is a recent example that contradicts the usual rule you stated. Segolene Royal, former candidate for french presidency used a b&w picture for her ad. (here it is: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/208/440676060_25549e6463.jpg?v=0 ). Despite the final result of the election -she lost- the pundits commented quite positively on that aesthetical choice.. I guess it also depends a lot on the context of the election and how the personality of the candidate is perceived prior to the ad.

I can't help thinking of one of Barthes' Mythologies chapter entitled "Photogénie électorale".. a mst-read on that particular issue.