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Hand-coloured photographs

tara louise mcmanus


A new series of hand-coloured photographs that highlight both the fragility and intense beauty of nature in a single image.  

During the 2020 lockdown, while largely trapped – as we all were in our homes – walks on the empty streets in my neighbourhood were my only respite. In this silence and sense of release – heightened by the pandemic, I began to notice nature in a way I never had before. As I am a fashion photographer, I looked at nature as a new subject I was shooting but with a similar eye.

Something else also began to happen: because the fragility of our world was so profoundly brought home by the pandemic, suddenly the environmental stories I had been reading for years seemed so real and close. In this series, “Light Matter”, I explored the desperation and brilliance of a plant’s thorn trying to protect itself from the world; the intricate veins of a leaf – so similar to our own veins; and of course, life's essential element – water. My visual experience was impacted by natural light. Subdued, dappled, dramatic or reflected – it had the power to new avatars for my subjects.


A brief introduction

Hand-colouring of photographs was a 19th century technique to make monochrome images appear more real. This is something that would be alien to most of us today, given that a colour photograph can now literally be acquired by a single tap on any cellular device. As a photographer, I have always been intrigued by hand-coloured photographs as a combination of two artistic disciplines, and the possibilities that it creates.
In 2019, I decided to experiment with this practice using my photographs, but in a modern and painterly way. I chose to use contemporary colours and ways of highlighting elements, not to make them more real (as was the original intent), but to emote. My first series of hand-coloured photographs was called ‘Female Warriors’, and was exhibited in Bangalore in September, 2019. The series explored feminine strength in the 21st century, while subverting how women have conventionally been seen in images.

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