So, which is more “alien,” color or black-and-white?
The following photograph (whimsically titled “Abandoned Monument”) was taken in Arches National Park, Utah:
And the following is the same photo rendered in black-and-white, with some modification in contrast and brightness:
The variety of color in the first photo makes an extreme contrast between the stark blues of the sky and the weathered drab neutral reds, tans, and ochre-whites. There’s contrast in the ground too, the shadowed horizon cobbled with brighter sun-touched rocks, and the dull greens and grays standing against the yellowed sands. The blue is uniformly cold, with no trace of the warmth in the rocks and grass that come forward. The horizontal dividing lines in the picture are thus sharp: the lowering sky, the dark middle distance, then the contrasts of the lower section—like geological strata in layer-cakes of color, the clouds more distant than the close-up ground.
But in the second picture the similarity of the shapes stand out more. The eye so quickly realizes the colors in the first picture that the doughy pillow-case forms of both the clouds and rocks are not as prominent. The B&W picture is more integrated, the clouds closer, more participants in the landscape than backdrop. The rocks in turn seem to pick up the motion of the sky, making the scene more animated, more “organic”? And the central spicule “monument” is now less prominent, more “lost”? Is the second less serene, more edgy?
Which scene is more threatening, more frightening? Which seems more “alive”? Which would you rather walk into? Which reaches you more on an intellectual level? Which touches you more deeply on a primitive emotional “gut” level? Which would you put above your desk? Which would you send to a friend? Which would you put on a spaceship as an impression for aliens of an Earth landscape?
Make these into a prompt for a writing class. Show the first picture on a screen and say, “Write a description of this place.” Let them work for a while and maybe share results. Then throw up the B&W version, and say, “Describe this one, but emphasize what’s different—details, senses, emotions, reactions.”
Or, maybe more fun, ask them to compose a story around the first picture. Then show the next and have them write a wholly different story.