Rule Breakers: Justin Solomon

“I never want to see another picture of _______.” Industry veterans share their pet peeves on themes in contemporary photography. In this series they present their “rule” along with five photographs that break the rule in an effort to show that great work is the exception to the rule.

Rule Setter: Ash Hagerstrand, Photographer, Editor, Don’t Take Pictures
Rule Breaker: Justin Solomon

I never want to see another selective color photograph. Every black-and-white photograph with spot of color reminds me of mid-aughts internet art culture.

It’s 2008 and you’re feeling fashionably angsty. You log into your Flickr account and post a black-and-white photograph of a bicycle abandoned in a rain puddle. With the unbridled confidence of someone who just watched an eight-minute YouTube primer on Photoshop, you leave the bicycle red. You get 300 comments. It's the highlight of your art career. 

Simultaneously iconic of the era and retrospectively cringe-inducing, selective color photography is widely considered amateurish and cliché. More contrivance than art, selective coloring always shifts the conversation away from the content and message of the image and toward the editing technique.

Justin Solomon’s selectively colored black-and-white photographs are the exception. His use of color is subtle—a glimpse of orange in a shadow, a brush of skin tone, the barest blue in the highlight of a sweater. While his intimate black-and-white portraits benefit from visual play of color, they don’t rely on it. The gentle positioning of figures and unflinching eye contact hold as much visual weight as a tint of blue or red.

At times, Solomon obscures the majority of a figure; complimenting a push and pull between what the viewer sees and what the viewer wants to see. The way he plays with light parallels the way that he manipulates color. He uses selective color in a way that embraces how our minds play tricks on us. Do we see the color because he has included it or because we imagined it? Far from a gimmick, Solomon’s thoughtful inclusion of color isn’t intended to be a jarring pop of a red stop sign or a yellow sunflower, but instead is used to heighten the emotional quality of the photography, to which we are immediately drawn and are left wondering.
—Ash Hagerstrand