Issue 4 | The Bird Blog - Arc'teryx

Issue No. 4 // Darkness and Light

Editorial // by Jill Macdonald

DARKNESS AND LIGHT

Humans are unable to distinguish colour in conditions of either total darkness or infinite light. When reduced to black or white the world can become a place of fear and chaos, whether we are considering life and death situations or moral conflicts.

In science, technology and culture, a collision of ideas is happening, spawning new forms and systems. The creative process requires courage and combines unlikely forces. Above ground and underground we map new horizons and break with convention.

Darkness only exists because there is light to reveal it for what it is – absence. The absence of light, or of knowledge, or of inspiration. In the absence of absolutes, we find grace and dignity. Perspective is everything.

THE INVISIBLE MADE VISIBLE

Colour is energy. It is also psychological, emotional and more powerful than we might imagine. So how many people does it take to choose, match and plan the colours of Arc’teryx? An entire team.

SELECTIONS

In the hands of a master the camera is more than a documenter of moments; it is a creator of emotion and a sculptor of light. Selected images on the theme of "Darkness and Light."

Design // by Lisa Richardson, Photography by Angela Percival and Brian Goldstone

THE INVISIBLE MADE VISIBLE

Twenty-four year-old Isaac Newton, the father of gravity, calculus and the three laws of motion, was the first to discover that white light contains all the colours of the rainbow— by sticking a knife into his eye socket and wiggling it around.
It didn’t prove anything to his exacting satisfaction – he just saw coloured spots in his vision – so he pulled the blinds closed and began the less tactile work of bouncing a beam of sunlight through a glass prism. What projected was a 22 foot rainbow of colour, proving that white light isn’t white at all, but a composite of all the colours of the visible spectrum.
Newton also noticed that each colour was balanced by an opposing colour. Through the starkness of perfect contrast, an opposing colour is able to render its complement more beautiful, more essential, more luminous. His colour circle evolved into the colour wheel, revealing how blue complements orange, violet complements yellow and red complements green. Choosing which colours go together however, is not as easy as following a formula. At Arc’teryx, colour has its own department, a team of eight who, in their daily dedication to bringing richness and vibrancy to all products, dive deep into the collective unconscious of the colour underworld with nothing to guide them but their own insight.

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“Colour preference is emotional and subjective,” says colour designer Trina Thompson, “and that makes colour prediction an art. But it’s also a science, because we need to balance and control each colour in each fabric.” Part psychology, part sociology, and a big dose of mystery; but at least there are no knives involved.
Colour is energy— literally. It’s a property of light, the radiant energy from the sun that streams towards earth at a speed of 299,792,458 meters per second. The visible part of this light energy sits on the electromagnetic spectrum in between longer radio, microwave and infrared waves and shorter ultraviolet, X-rays and gamma rays.
Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, these colours make up what Newton termed the visible light spectrum. White light. This is the toolbox for the Arc’teryx colour team. And their goal? Render the power of the sun, one bold colour at a time, onto the surface of a garment.
For every single collection, each and every product, the colour team works from scratch to make abstraction real. At the colour stage designs come in as samples first; although the fabrics are correct, they may be in odd colours and there is no direction toward where colour might play: in panels, trim or otherwise. An entire story has to be created, one that harmonizes colour with purpose, other selections and across the entire line.

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For the aerobic Endorphin product collection, colourist Sybille Kissling honed in on bright, swift colours with pace and high visibility. Easy to spot against any background, the palette was chosen to convey energy. When completed, colour lights up a collection so it can catch the eye, transcend oblivion, stop us in our tracks, close the sale and get us all outside.
Up to 90% of decision-making is based on colour. In a crucial 90 second judgment-forming window, as one admires the effect of a dye and the way it illuminates, colour is actually bouncing into your eye to trigger a cascade of memories and associations and emotions. The surface is just the thinnest part of the story.
Dr I-Chant Chiang, a professor in cognitive psychology at Squamish’s Quest University, is interested in the way the brain and the mind interconnect, and how language and culture affect the way humans think. She says that humans are visual creatures. A quarter of our brain is devoted to visual processing; the eye is just an outpost of brain neurons.
“When light hits an object, it bounces different length waves to your eyes which are processed by the rods and cones in the back of your eyes,” explains Chiang. That “colour” information is then processed by the brain’s occipital lobe via the ocular nerve. Barring dysfunction or disability, we all experience the same physical process of light transfer to signals in the brain. Or do we?
“Colour is extremely subjective,” says Corey Bond, the colour team’s administrator. “A big part of our job is to understand how people prefer colour and then compensating for that preference. Do they like their whites more blue than yellow? Do they prefer really saturated colours? ” Bright clear colours best serve the Northern European blonde-haired, blue-eyed complexion, whereas North Americans favour more muddy tones. Yellow is risky because not many Caucasians wear it well. In Asia, red is so lucky it’s used for wedding dresses. Gambling with a bright accent can score or it can scare.
Spinning the colour wheel becomes a game of roulette.
The colour team reference trend reports, global sales, feedback, colour theory and hard-won experience. They look to Nature. But mostly, to render the invisible visible, they go with their gut.

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When even the least complex garment requires a cascade of colour decisions, a rigorous process is needed to keep the imagination in line. Main fabric, logo, zipper, zipper pulls, pull cords, patterns on the pull cords, sleeve binding, thread – nothing can be overlooked. Should the colours blend? Should they be tonal? Does the piece need some spice, an accent that pops out and draws everything together?
It’s a Rubik’s rainbow, a puzzle of garments and colourways and fabric quantities unraveling into infinity. The solution is colour boards. “Every single item we make requires a colourboard,” explains Corey Bond. “The colourboard covers each dyed piece in a product. They can be anywhere from one page to six pages long.”

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Final colour selections are based on lab “dips”, tiny pieces of sample fabrics custom-dyed to the team’s specifications. Using what Kristi Birnie, Colour Design Manager, calls “projection,” the colour designers mentally translate the tiny swatches up to full scale. “When I was newer to it,” she says, “I’d see the piece in the end and think, Woah! That’s not really how I envisioned it. It’s wa-a-a-ay brighter. Or wa-a-a-ay green. But you get good at it. Now I can see the colour at the small scale, measure it with a spectrumometer, look at it under four different light sources, and project it up.”
Ruthlessness and an eye-crossing attention to detail are required to finalize the colourboards. Typically, six out of eight lab dips are positive. From those six colours, perhaps only two can be used. Colour options are pared away, codes entered into spreadsheets. Series of numbers become jackets with eye-popping details and subtle harmonies. But when the difference between lemon zest and magma red is typing 535 instead of 553, the margin for error is no margin at all.
For an athlete, the basic performance applications of colour are to stand out or to blend in; provide protection through visibility or invisibility. Nature operates the same way, using colour as a strategy to either attract attention or avoid it. Sometimes, invisibility is the best line of defense.

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For colourist Kavan Cronin, the focus of some of his colourboards is to create products that not only blend into their background environment, but where “as many external visible components as possible match each other so no ‘targets’ are left.” When working with the LEAF division of Arc’teryx, (Law Enforcement and Armed Forces) Kavan’s aim is always to achieve near-perfect invisibility. “It takes extreme colour scrutiny and attention to detail.”
For personnel needing urban camouflage, Cronin developed Wolf, a dark grey tone chosen from the grayscale that blends in with concrete, glass and steel. From distance or in situations of marginal light, the grayscale tone of most surfaces is dark grey. Wolf is an alternative uniform colour for environments where black stands out.
Black isn’t always low profile and white isn’t white at all. And colours are really just complex judgments rendered as sensations. The invisible made visible, colour is just one tangible way to joyfully interact with physics’ most complex concepts – power, energy, frequency – just as skiing, climbing, hiking, running, are the ways we play with gravity, geology, momentum. We don’t have to grasp the science intellectually, or poke out our eyes, to get it.
“All humans see colour, but when you really tune in and appreciate it in your surroundings, it gives you a whole new perspective,” says Trina Thompson. “Viewing the world becomes much more of an emotional experience.”

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It’s in this layer of emotion that colour is most impactful and mysterious. Once you attune to it, colour can be consciously harnessed, as a source of energy or serenity or power. For Kristi Birnie, the original Arc’teryx colourist, that’s what her team serves up every day, as they immerse themselves in a sea of contrast, hue, saturation, luminance, theory and spreadsheets. Empowerment.
“If you feel protected, and are in a colour that gets you really amped up, in a place of true confidence, then you’re at the top of your game.”
And that’s the goal.

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Photography // curated by Dano Pendygrasse

SELECTIONS

This is an age where most people have a camera of some sort in their pocket at any given time, which gives anyone the opportunity to accidentally bang out a gem on an iPhone. But the ability to consistently make stunning images takes original thinking and commitment of time and a unique worldview.

Photography IS darkness and light, arrested for eternity in pixels or on paper. In the hands of a master the camera is more than a documenter of moments; it is a creator of emotion and a sculptor of light. Understanding how to manipulate and craft black shadows or blinding glare into an image that holds power over the viewer is borne of experience, curiosity, and perseverance.

For this issue of Lithographica I asked some of these masters for a photo that spoke to the theme “Darkness and Light,” without giving them any constraint on what they could submit. These are their selections.

Vincent Skoglund

The first photographer I thought of when the theme was presented, Vincent has worked with light on a massive scale in many of his works. By selectively lighting forests, or masking backgrounds with giant black sheets, Vincent chooses what to show and what to hide in scenes that are familiar, but with a perspective that draws new conclusions.

Chris Brunkhart

It would be impossible for me to put together this group of photographers without Chris. Now based in New York, Chris finds the interesting places where the dark grinds against the light. He has a masterful sense of composition and his interpretations of urban landscapes are unique. As always, there is detail in the darkness that many miss.

Colin Adair

Colin collaborated with Art Director Daniel Curtis on a series of images using fireworks and other pyrotechnics. Making these exposures is a tricky business as the dynamically changing light and moving subject make for a challenging shooting scenario.

Paul Morrison

Paul’s knowledge of light is well known in the world of ski photography. He is a master of the mountain landscape, but he’s always finding new ways to interpret light. Here we find him exploring a smaller scene. When he removes the reference points the macro image attains an ambiguity of perspective, creating worlds instead of documenting them.

Blake Jorgenson

By always embracing the strong contrast of light and dark that happens in the mountains, Blake draws a unique view of his world. He is known for playing with the harshness that exists and using the strengths and weaknesses of the medium to his advantage. Making this photo of Dan Treadway and Seth Morrison he says: "We can get a new perspective on the world from the limitations of the camera in dark and bright light."

Jordan Manley

Always finding new ways to manipulate subjects in unexpected ways, Jordan creates images that are provocative, challenging, and often beautiful. I can’t pretend to not be in awe of his talent. Here he presents the ubiquitous Vancouver rain with a completely new and fascinating technique.

Mattias Fredriksson

The chaos of a city at night is ripe territory for photographers. In Japan with Mark Abma, Mattias recounts: "In downtown Tokyo we were waiting for a bus, excited to go to the mountains and totally relaxed. The people around us were stressing, as always in the big cities and it was such a contrast."

Trevor Graves

Trevor was an early innovator of artificial light in action sports. Always experimenting, he inspired much of the strobe work that came after him. Yet with his submission of a natural light image of the Matterhorn he sent this: “We can only appreciate the miracle of a sunrise if we have waited in the darkness".

Andy Wright

Andy may be at the height of his career in the snowboard world, but his street photography is an insight into his active mind and varied interests. This shot, from his limited run book "Incidental Contact", speaks to darkness and light on multiple levels, embracing whimsy and dejection simultaneously.

Ian Ruhter

When Ian set out to shift gears in his photo direction, he did it on a scale that nobody before him ever had. He combined the hands-on craftsmanship of wet plate photography, a technique from a century ago, with a camera the size of a truck. In fact, it is a truck. However, his journey in photography has been broader than just his wet plate work. He’s always had a keen insight into the people he shoots.

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