Color of Place: Julieanne Kost’s Color Palettes from around the World
There are certain things we perceive – like an old but familiar scent calling to mind happy memories, or a long-forgotten song transporting you to your first listen – that carry much more than the molecules, vibrations, or waves of which they are made up. Why these properties can influence our experiences so greatly and vice versa, is not altogether clear. However, that is what the talented photographer (and friend of mine) Julieanne Kost set out to understand.
Using photography as a medium for examining her relationship with color, Julieanne embarked on the project “Color of Place” to discover how her perceptions of color influence her work and how her work, in turn, shapes her perceptions. I was lucky enough to sit down with her and explore the subject.
Color of Place
A series of images created from blurred strips of travel photographs, the “Color of Place” body of work reveals the color palette of 25 locations around the globe as Julieanne sees them.
Julieanne explains, “When looking through my recent photos, I found that my best images were concentrated within a handful of locations. I didn’t believe that it was a result of something as simple as the environment (rural or urban), the weather, or my photography equipment.”
Grouping the images together, Julieanne noticed “the most successful shoots came from locations where I had unconsciously photographed images which all shared harmonious colors.” While the color palettes for each location differed, there was no question that something about the colors of these places just worked. Some were nearly monochromatic, others were united through saturation (or lack thereof), while still others’ colors were complementary, yet all were beautifully coordinated.
“This observation raised an interesting question,” says Julieanne: “Does every location have a unique, identifiable color palette that can define it?”
Julieanne devised a project to investigate this, hoping that along the way she would become more aware of the impact of color on her photographic process. Ultimately, her exploration inspired this body of work.
Going way back
Although this particular project is recent, her work on the topic began long ago with her lifelong interest in psychology. Passionate about “photography as a means of self-expression and self-examination,” Julieanne was always “intrigued by the fact that an entire photography class, given the same assignment, would produce images as different as each individual’s diverse experiences and interactions with society.”
Her spirit of inquiry led her to a degree in psychology, where she pondered how our environment influences our mood, impacts our actions, and affects our performance. She recalls, “I was fascinated with research that demonstrated how our behavior can be altered on a subconscious level because of external factors such as fragrance, noise, and color.”
Inevitably, combining the two disciplines – photography and psychology – seemed a natural fit for this project.
Assembling the pieces
“I begin by selecting my favorite 50 images from each location,” Julieanne explains. “I try to find the photos which best represent the colors of a specific location.”
Based on her experience of the location during the shoot, Julieanne curates the photos in Lightroom to create the color palette closest to her in-person experience. In Photoshop, Julieanne applies the Path Blur filter to the photographs and then selects a small strip of each image. She arranges these to form her 50×20 canvas.
“My initial intent was to arrange the strips left to right across the canvas in the order in which they were captured,” Julieanne admits, “but that didn’t always lead to aesthetically pleasing images.” Taking artistic license, she rearranges the strips until they ring true for each location. However, this adds another layer of complexity because the number of ways to rearrange 50 strips is 50 factorial (approximately 3 followed by 64 zeros).
Nevertheless, Julieanne wanted to do each location justice. “In order to try several different arrangements,” she tells us, “I import the 50 strips into a collection in Lightroom and reorder them using Survey view.” When she has the order just right, Julieanne explains, “I then export the strips, adding a numerical sequence at the beginning of the file name in order to maintain the order when placed into the Photoshop document.”
Beholding Julieanne’s introspective images, I wondered whether there was anything unexpected she discovered through her work on Color of Place. So I asked what, if anything, surprised her. “While I found that I was able to create a unique color palette for every location specific to the time of my visit,” she tells me, “the color palette that I chose to represent each location was far from being objective.”
There were obvious external factors, such as time of day, season, weather conditions, and environment, which affected the color palette of a location. But that wasn’t all. Julieanne also noticed her own personal biases, such as what subjects she chose to photograph and what subjects she deliberately avoided. Even after she put her camera down, there were subjective biases when it came to selecting her favorite 50 images, selecting a portion of each image to as the strip, and finally arranging the strips. So, while it was impossible for Julieanne to create a truly objective color palette, she also found, “I was able to create a palette based on how I experienced the location.”
Going into the project, Julieanne focused on how color influences photographs and their viewers, but this project opened her eyes wider to the way colors in an environment affect the photographer as well. She explains, “even though I knew from my studies in psychology that color influences emotion and impacts mood, I hadn’t thought of how the colors in a photographer’s surroundings would impact the actual process of taking a photograph.”
For Julieanne, how she felt about the colors around her during a shoot would trickle down into the resulting photographs. She realized, “in the locations where I was physically surrounded by bright, saturated colors, I produced fewer successful images. In fact, in some of these brighter locations, I found it difficult to find even 50 good images to work with. But when I was physically surrounded by muted earth-tones, I had significantly more images to choose from.”
“I discovered that colors in the environment have impacted my photography my entire life, and I wasn’t even aware of it,” Julieanne shares. Now that she is conscious of these effects, she can adapt and change the way she interacts with her surroundings. “For example, when I find myself struggling to create an image,” she expands, “I can try adjusting my physical location to include an environment with color more harmonious with my individual preferences. This alone might predispose me to make better photographs.”
Sharing the body of work with her peers and friends gave Julieanne even more to think about. “It became obvious that colors can have deeply-rooted, symbolic meaning,” Julieanne says. “Colors influence thoughts and ideologies (consciously or not) in one society, while representing something very different in another.” In other words, the meanings assigned to colors are far from universal. For example, red might represent passion and love in one country but rage and anger in another.
Julieanne continues, “I began to question whether my own cultural color bias prevented me from creating a color palette that accurately represents the location. Was I including and excluding colors because of my personal experience of the location, or was it my cultural bias about the color’s meaning that influenced my artistic choice?”
“This project certainly made me question my assumption of color,” Julieanne admits. “Several times I discovered significant differences between the color palette that I was expecting to pull from a location and the one that I created. For example, I typically think of trees and grass as green – but in actuality, I’ve found them to be quite yellow. And the night is filled with blues and purples once you get out from under the orange and yellow lights of the cities.”
Julieanne hopes these colors will surprise people in a similar way, challenging their expectations. At the same time, she also wants viewers to be able relate to the palettes she has pulled from these locations around the world, making a connection with the colors, whether or not they have visited their source. “I would hope that the images might spark conversations about how we are influenced by color and how we can use color to create harmony in our lives.”
In a few parting words, Julieanne tells me, “Just like smell and taste, color can instantly transport you to another time and place. Yellows bring me back to my mother’s kitchen, while pale greens evoke the taste of mint-chip ice cream. This is one of my favorite things about my relationship with color, and I’m looking forward to discovering more about the psychology of color. As I continue to learn, I will continue to use color in a more and more deliberate way – not only in the process of making images for myself, but also keeping in mind where my colors might take someone else.”