Color is camouflage

Beneath—are u listening, u-stew-pid-u?—beneath the colored world, like the hidden workings of the body, where the bones move, where the nerves signal, where the veins send the blood flooding—where the signaling nerves especially form their net—lie all the grays, the grays that go from the pale gray of bleached linen, through all the shades of darkening, deepening graying grays that lie between, to the grays that are nearly soot black, without light: the gray beneath blue, the gray beneath green, yes, I should also say the gray beneath gray; and these grays are held in that gray continuum between gray extremes like books between bookends. U-Stu, pay attention, this is the real world, the gray gradation world, and the camera, the way an X-ray works, reveals it to our eye, for otherwise we’d have never seen it; we’d have never known it was there, under everything, beauty’s real face beneath the powders and the rouges and the crèmes. Color is cosmetic. Good for hothouse blooms. Great for cards of greeting. Listen, u-Stew, color is consternation. Color is a lure. Color is candy. It makes sensuality easy. It leads us astray. Color is oratory in the service of the wrong religion. Color makes the camera into a paintbrush. Color is camouflage. That was Mr. Gab’s catechism: what color was. Color was not what we see with the mind. Like an overpowering perfume, color was vulgar. Like an overpowering perfume, color lulled and dulled the senses. Like an overpowering perfume, color was only worn by whores.

Grass cannot be captured in color. It becomes confused. Trees neither. Except for fall foliage seen from a plane. But in gray: the snowy rooftop, the winter tree, whole mountains of rock, the froth of a fast stream can be caught, spew and striation, twig and stick, footprint on a snowy walk, the wander of a wrinkle across the face…oh…and Mr. Gab would interrupt his rhapsody to go to a cabinet and take out one of Sudek’s panoramic prints: see how the fence comes toward the camera, as eager as a puppy, and how the reflection of the building in the river, in doubling the image, creates a new one, born of both body and soul, and how the reflection of the dome of the central building on the other side of the water has been placed at precisely the fence’s closest approach, and how, far away, the castle, in a gray made of mist, layers the space, and melts into a sky that’s thirty shades of gradual…see that? see how? How the upsidedown world is darker, naturally more fluid…ah…and breaking off again, Mr. Gab withdrew from a cardboard carton called PRAGUE a photograph so lovely that even the stupid not-yet assistant drew in his breath as though struck in the stomach (though he’d been poked in the eye); and Mr. Gab observed this and said ah! you do see, you do…well…bless you. The stupid not-yet assistant was at that moment so happy he trembled at the edge of a tear.

William H. Gass, In Camera, [In:] Eyes: Novellas and Short Stories, 2015.

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