Colourville – photographs by Avard Woolaver

Colourville, photobook, Avard Woolaver, 2019,

Colourville is a place in my mind where colour lives, the part of my brain where colours meet and mingle. It’s what propels me to record colour scenes with my camera. But it wasn’t always this way.

For a long time, my photos were almost all black and white. I paid a great deal of attention to lines and form and the abstract qualities that monochrome provided. My influences had been Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander who were all about documenting the social landscape. It seemed that this type of photography was so much better suited to black and white, or as Frank called it, “the colours of hope and despair.” The price was another big reason to use black and white. A darkroom could be set up anywhere, and it wasn’t so difficult or expensive to process and print black and white film. I had almost no access to a colour darkroom. It was 90% black and white and 10% colour.

While attending Ryerson in Toronto, I did learn how to process and print colour film. Thanks to a wonderful professor named Don Snyder, I became quite proficient at colour printing but didn’t get use the skill for several years.

In the 1990s, when I co-owned and operated a custom photo lab in Toronto, the hundreds of hours spent balancing prints, dialling in the cyan, magenta, and yellow, taught me so much. I learned more about colour photography doing this, than in the previous decades of photography.

One client was a designer whose understanding of colour astonished me. She created a line of elegant women’s fashion, and our lab printed catalogues for her annual shows. Not only could she identify and choose from among subtle differences in colour on a print, she could even remember shades without looking at them—the way some people have an uncanny gift for recalling the characteristics of a wine they tasted years earlier, or a music performance heard in childhood. Working with clients like her helped me understand colour precision, and relationships between colours. It made me appreciate the photographic potential of the world around me in a new way.

When I began using a digital camera in 2006, I began shooting almost entirely in colour. Living in the country, I became more aware of light temperature and natural colour casts in the sky. And I no longer needed a colour darkroom. The magic that I felt in my early days of photography had returned.

In this book I take a trek across the colour spectrum following the colours on the rainbow flag seen on page 2. Violet to indigo, to blue, green, yellow, orange, red, pink, and finally gray. I also have included images that serve as a transition between two colours. It is my hope that the photos are interesting on their own, without the colour connections. They are a glimpse into Colourville—a marvellous place.

Colourville is available through Blurb Books.

Colourville, photobook, Avard Woolaver, 2019,


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