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Red in photography, painting and cinema

February 16, 2019
red photography, painting, cinema

Quick reflections about red in photographypainting and cinema. Red, the color of love and passion, but also the color of violence and blood.

Color directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another purposively, to cause vibrations in the soul. (Wassily Kandinsly)


Great painter (and writer) Wassily Kandinsky wrote in his book Spiritual in art that color acts on two levels: physical and spiritual. The physical one is due to its interaction with retina and occipital cortex. Warm colors, as red, are more vital and have a centrifugal movement “tending to come forward“. Warm colors attract viewer’s eye. Red “shocks” our retina and our brain. It’s a strong color.

The spiritual level is deeper and more complex than physical one. Color is analyzed and processed in the brain and after it’s connected with different sensations and emotions. Red color in art create tension and dynamism. It can express violence, fear (think to blood) but also love and passion.

Red in photography, painting and cinema

Here is what Kandinsky said about red:

The red that we usually have in mind is a rampant and typically warm color, which acts in the interior in a very vital, lively and restless way […] demonstrates an immense and almost conscious energy […] The warm red clear (Saturn) it resembles a little to medium yellow and gives sensations of strength, energy, tension, determination, joy, triumph (pure) From the musical point of view it recalls the sound of fanfare with the tuba: strong, stubborn, deafening. The middle red, like cinnabar, has the stability of a deep feeling: a passion has come that has no shake, a self-assured force that is not easy to suffocate, but can be seen in the blue like an iron burning in the water. The cold red (for example the garanza lacquer) […] seems more passionate, less dynamic […] It recalls the passionate, medium and serious tones of the cello. The cold red, when it is clear […] is an adolescent joy, like a fresh, young, innocent girl […] can easily be translated with the highest, clear and singular tones of the violin … it is very used for the clothes of the girls […] The cinnabar red sounds like a tuba and can be compared to a strong drum roll ” (Wassily Kandinsky, The spiritual in art)

Red express powerfull feelings and strong emotions, it catches viewer’s eyes. Think to a picture like this: a women dressed in blue is crying. Now think at the same scene but with the women dressed in red. Which one is the more dramatic picture? Obviously the second one, because red emphasizes strong emotions.

In painting and cinema you can choose colors, but in street photography you can’t, you have to shot colors that reality puts in front of you.


Red as love and passion in cinema, painting and street photography.

red photography, painting, cinema

American Beauty


Mark Chagall


red photography, painting, cinema

Alex Webb, Magnum photos



Red as intimacy and sexual provocation in Edward Hopper’s canvases.

Edward Hopper



Red is also movement, dynamism and energy. The joy of life in Matisse’s paintings. Look at the beautiful contrast between red and green (complementary colors) and contrast between blu and red (cold vs hot colors). Arabesques and tonal contrast emphasize the dynamic composition.

red photography, painting, cinema

Henry Matisse



Red for drama in cinema, painting and photography.

red photography, painting, cinema



red photography, painting, cinema

Edvard Munch


In Steve McCurry‘s portrait of Sharbat Gula the war drama is accentuated by red and also by the contrast with its complementary color, the green.

red photography, painting, cinema

Steve McCurry, National Geographic



Red, the color of blood, the color of violence. Here are two examples in cinema and painting.

red photography, painting, cinema

The Shining


red photography, painting, cinema

Pablo Picasso



Red as danger in cinema.

red photography, painting, cinema

A space odyssey



Red as fear (blood, violence) in cinema

red photography, painting, cinema

It (2017)


Read full article about color in cinema here (Italian language)

Stay well, have always light in your life

Best, F.S


Read also:  Surrealism in street photography, painting and cinema

The Mule: review

I want more life: street photography

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