My master’s thesis used a web survey to gather textual descriptions of photographs from image professionals. I had grand interest in the way people may describe a color image, compared to a black-and-white image, imagining that the word choices for a color image would have a denser textual description. (spoiler alert: I found no difference)
What I did notice, however, was that when the image professionals described a black-and-white image they made sure to note that it was “black-and-white” but that was not true of a color image. Something about black-and-white was notable. It occurred to me that somewhere along the way, color images had become the standard, the norm – the unmarked category – that black-and-white had been surpassed by color and had transitioned to being non-standard – the marked category. The image professionals responding to the survey didn’t feel the need to note when a photograph was color because it was the way most photographs are experienced in daily life.
I wrote an article about the way I tracked that transition, and it just never got published. I came across the drafts of the article the other day and thought I’d post it to my university’s institutional repository. Maybe it can act as someone’s inspiration, for future research.
Abstract: This research applies the linguistic construct of markedness to photography to demonstrate that due to time and technology color photography has changed from the marked to unmarked object within a thirty-year span. A sample of articles from 1940 to 1970 from the weekly photography column in the New York Times was analyzed to trace color photography as it moved from its marked, or out-of-the-ordinary, status to an unmarked, or normal or expected status. Analysis finds that as of 1970 the distinction of the color photograph as ‘new’ was no longer a significant topic in the newspaper column, suggesting that color photography became unmarked at that time. This research uses the construct of markedness to suggest that due to the changing meanings and importance of photographs over time the development of a bibliographic structure that allows for updates and changes over time may be an appropriate consideration.
Here’s a link to the article: What Was Old is New Again: Markedness and Photography