Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Obama Hope poster analyzed from an artistic perspective

It's actually a very nice example of how to use value on a basic level. There are two parts of it: the blue and the red. Most of the value is contained in the blue colors, which are divided into three. Adding the white we get a four valued gray scale, starting with the most blue, then going to a blue located halfway between pure blue and white--forming the midtone--, then finally coming to a value between the midtone and white. The way it works is that the bluest blue corresponds to the darkest dark, mostly his hair, his suit, parts of his eyes and ears, but these areas don't contain the primary information that makes up the face. Instead, the two lighter blue tones and white form the palette that really gives definition and shape to the face. The third blue tone, the lightest, has as its function giving subtlety to the parts of the face that without it would appear very high contrast and choppy. Which brings up the ultimate function of the color scheme.

Despite having four values, the blue scale retains high contrast because of the large areas on the neck and face that are the darkest value. The neck, for instance, doesn't need to be that dark in order to communicate that it's a neck. Neither do the cheek bones. Added to the hair and the suit, these areas form a very distinct high contrast block. Now the red. Unlike the blue the red has only one value, which is a dark value. Putting the red next to the darkest blue creates a distinctive and eye catching contrast. But notice that since the darkest blue is still identifiably blue and not black it creates something less than the maximum contrast possible. Notice also that even in the half of the face which has the most red in it that there are still blue highlights from the middle value, breaking up the high contrast area and softening it. The same could be said for the Obama logo in the lower right. Also, the large "HOPE" is the midtone as opposed to white. Also, if you look close at it the poster really isn't divided literally in half, with half of it being red dominated and half being blue dominated, because there are large midtone blue areas directly below the edge of the red background. Now the red on the left side of the poster.

Even though it's dominated by blue, the left side of the poster retains its high contrast because where the red is used it's placed between the darkest blue and the midtone blue. Because red appears hotter than blue, it appears to be lighter than blue when placed next to it, even though it may be just as dark a red. Therefore, the red on the left side appears as a fifth value in the scheme of things, and indeed its function echoes that of the lightest blue: it appears sparingly, leaving the darkest blue, midtone blue, and white as the primarily used colors.

Then there's the large expanse of blue that makes up the background on the left side. It's the midtone blue, and the effect is to produce a contrast that's not as extreme as a darker blue and red would be. Plus, it's a lighter color that's associated with soft, non-threatening things like blue skies, thereby provoking an emotional response that tempers the contrast even more, diffusing any suggestion of a harsh contrast.

All of this together explains why the poster remains recognizable without being a Che poster.

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