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Color

Published by Catherine Nguyen

“Color is a power which directly influences the soul.” 

This quote by Wassily Kandinsky speaks to me on several different levels.  As a photographer, it reminds me of how color can affect what I am seeing through the lens.  As an Asian American, it reminds me of how color can be a window into someone’s history.

In April 1975, my family and I came over on the last cargo plane out of Saigon. In South Vietnam, my mother worked for a bank at the American Embassy and my father worked in the office of the President. My parents worked hard to achieve these positions but staying meant my father would surely be sent to a reeducation camp or worse.  We were fortunate to get a sponsor family through my mom’s connections at the bank and escape to America. My parents don't talk about it often, but it must have been terrifying to start over as adults in a completely different country with two small children and nothing but the clothes on our backs. Though my mother had studied English in Vietnam, fast-talking New Yorkers with their heavy accents left her out of her element.  It was a tough time for our family and for many families who fled to the United States in search of freedom and hope in the future.   

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you may remember a recent post of mine sharing my experiences as an Asian American growing up in Long Island and Queens.  The hurt and humiliation I endured by people who saw my color and then assigned me with labels, stereotypes, and derogatory nicknames – needless to say, it changed my life. It isn’t that I think people should be color blind so much as color sensitive.  I am very much Asian, and I am proud of my heritage. The irony is that America is a melting pot, a hodgepodge of races and ethnicities, each with a personal story of struggle and assimilation. To torment, hurt, or embarrass someone because of their color is nothing more than ignorance and anger.

My profession introduced me to the fact that we are surrounded by color in everything that we do from endless spectrums of vibrant hues to subtle monochromatic tones.  It is easy to take color for granted and not really think about how it can be used to evoke different emotions.  It is also easy to allow color to influence our behavior and determine our character.  As an artist I am constantly considering shades, tints, and even pops of color with every angle that I shoot because I want to display a certain look or feel. As a person, I am aware of the need to rise above the mindset limitations associated with color and speak out against all forms of racism and hate.

I had a choice when I was younger to allow the opinion of others to define me or to embrace my heritage and my color.  Despite the hurt, despite the challenges, I chose the latter.  Now I work with color.  I study it, analyze it, and appreciate it.  

Here are some examples of how I see color through my everyday lens recognizing each one as incredibly unique and ever so beautiful. Every image here proudly displays color in a different way whether it be bold blues, pretty pinks, or shades of tan. Even subtle contrasts of whites and creams make a statement that is specific to the designer.  What appeals to me most about how color is used in these images is that there is no fear, no apprehension.  Instead, color is embraced and used to express a range of wonderful emotions, inviting the viewer to feel a part of the environment.

It is interesting these two ways in which color plays a part of my life.  As an interior and architectural photographer, when I look at a space, my eye is looking for balance and for contrast.  Color is incredibly important and can either make something the focal point or detract from the focal point.  It is my job to make sure that I use color to the advantage of the subject.  When I look at a person, I recognize color, but I immediately look past that to see the person.  Color may give me an insight into their experiences…or it may not.

We all have a different relationship with color. I challenge each of you to consider what color means to you and how you have allowed it to affect your soul.  When do you focus on it or ignore it? Love it or hate it?