For the past four months, it’s been all about the colors red and green for me. It all started with Robert Bresson’s Lancelot du lac and Elaine Castillo’s blog post on red and green in Bresson’s film. Elaine and I talk about red and green all the time. Of course, these colors are especially prominent right now, with Christmas coming, so I’ve gone out of my way not to photograph anything that has to do with the holiday. Once you start to see it, to look for it, to notice it, it turns out that everything is red and green. Money is green and car lights are red. Red is the color that alerts you to danger. That tells you to stop. Green is the color of signs. The color that tells you to go. Graffiti and signatures are often red. Buildings and stairwells, green. Doors to houses are red. The door to my first apartment in London was red and someone kissed me against it one night after a party. Green is also the color of forests—or the feeling of being lost in one. The growth of feeling; the budding of love and coming into being. As the poet Fanny Howe writes in her poem, “After Watching Klimov’s Agoniya:”
“Love is the green in green. Does this explain its pain?”
When I looked for the poem to re-read it, these lines of Howe’s were in the poem too:
“Since love came over and knocked me down
Then kicked me in the side and fled,
I have suffered from a prolonged perplexity.”
Lancelot du lac is filled with forests and the bodies of armored men who bleed through their metal. Into the ground, as though blood were water.
The colors almost always go together.
For the past two days, red and green have literally been everywhere. I see people in red hats and green book bags. Red lights glow at night. When I take the elevator to and from my apartment every day, the numbers in the elevator are red. For years my door in New York was green before management painted it beige. But the paint is chipped by the lock, so there are flecks of green there, still. Netflix, which I use every night to watch movies, is red. And tonight: an elderly man at my gym had ten little red hearts tattooed all over his left arm.
And on and on.
Red isn’t possible without green and green isn’t possible without red. One (green) comes from inside, and one (red) is an expression of it. Green hurts, shocks, aches, vibrates and hums—perplexes, as Howe notes. Red pours over everything. It’s how you express the green. How the green comes out. So if red comes, it comes after green. Green is first. Red second. Everything starts with green because green is onset. Red is feeling deeply—deeper—and losing something or someone deeply, too. So red has its violence. Its trauma. Its horror. It explodes and spills. Saturates.
One of my favorite Dario Argento films is Deep Red, but I’ve always preferred the Italian title, Profondo Rosso—profound red. Because that’s what the color red is, profound. In the same way that green makes your eyes water because it thaws you. Wakes you. Is your awakening. Green allows things to grow and live again, if they’ve died—if you’ve died, if something has died in you—and also if they’ve never been born before or yet. Red and green alert you to the world, and so they are the colors of being alert.