John Pawson's World of Colour: Black
Some say black is the total absence of colour but Pawson's dark shots let us see chromatic shades more acutely
Is it correct to describe black as a colour? It certainly doesn't reflect any shades within the visible spectrum of light. However, black, along with white and grey, is sometimes described as an achromatic colour, or one without hue.
Darkness certainly helps you see other colours. As the German poet and aesthetic theorist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe observed in his 1810 book Theory of Colour, when a shadow falls, or light streams into a dark room, colours are often observed at the edges, and colours could be described as the interplay between light and dark; or as Goethe put it: “colour itself is a degree of darkness.”
The architect and photographer John Pawson refers to Goethe's work in the introduction to his new book, Spectrum - a multi-coloured photo essay, featuring 320 of John’s shots arranged in colour order.
Pawson's book, like Goethe's earlier work, doesn't attempt to present one single theory, but instead sets out a personal, first-hand examination of what it means to see colour.
Pawson's shots were taken as part of his architectural work, though they also give us insight into his visual sensibility.
"Each of the photographs here represents one such moment of reaching for the lens," he writes in the introduction to Spectrum. "They include fragments of narratives of individual projects, but also far-flung travels and observations of the moment – the tiny things that catch the eye in the course of an ordinary day. Mine is a greedy eye, hungry for anything of interest.
Years later, the memory of a wall in a Kyoto ryokan or the weathered grain of a church pew in Gloucestershire, preserved as a digital file, might serve as the perfect reference for a project in Stockholm or West Hollywood."
The professional application is clear, yet there's aesthetic value here too. Even these dark shots of dark rooms and night time landscapes shed light on Pawson's remarkable visual point of view, and perhaps help us see colours more clearly.