Some thoughts for Thursday on Visual Rhetoric


Few need an introduction to Picasso, and fewer still to this powerful statement created as a protest against a conflict of his time, The Spanish Civil War. Guernica was painted in 1937. But I would like to consider for a moment – Why did he choose black and white for this image?  Why not color? If one considers his palette of this period, it most certainly would be color.  Not black and white. Indeed, this paintings’ lack of color is an anomaly in Picasso’s body of work.  I would suggest maybe because of images like Robert Capa’s Death of a Spanish Loyalist Soldier.  This photograph was taken in 1936. This image, and images like this were being printed and reproduced in many of the newspapers of the day.

By 1937, Picasso was already aware of the power, the representational “truth” that the news photograph conveyed.  He understood and invoked the visual rhetoric of the news photograph.  And it was conveyed in black and white. The materiality of the photograph, its’ formal concerns, imbue it with it’s content.  With it’s conceptual punch.

While I was having dinner a couple years ago with colleagues, Professor Iris Ford remarked that she had considered replacing the family pictures in her den, which were in color, with black and white reproductions of them. She felt these color images documenting her family didn’t have the same significance as the black and white ones she remembered in her mother’s den. They didn’t feel real – authentic.

Colby Caldwell

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