Photo essay: Color conveys the beauty of Florida

Scenes often reminiscent of famous’ artists works

Florida’s water lily has a lovely fragrance. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Sooner or later every artist comes round to the question of color.

Once Claude Monet confessed, “Color is my daylong obsession, joy and torment.” In his numerous versions of water lilies, Monet painted with lead white, French ultramarine, cobalt blue, red lakes, emerald green, three varieties of yellow, and cobalt violet on white canvases. He found light “terrifying,” possibly because it changed so quickly.

Light was a prime consideration for Dutch artists such as Rembrandt van Rijn. He used dark earth tones and dull whites in his landscapes, which reflected the diminished light in the northern landscape for much of the year.

This is a ‘Renoir’ beach scene. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Another Dutch artist, Vincent Van Gogh, started out with a subdued palette, which then exploded with color after his move to Paris. There, Impressionists such as Auguste Renoir were creating sun-filled outings, including the Boating Party. Like Monet, color became an obsession for Van Gogh.

Stormy weather brings out the ‘Rembrandt’ palette. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Bold color was the hallmark of the Fauvists, the so-called “wild beasts” of French painting. Henri Matisse believed that colors were “forces to be assembled as inspiration dictates.” Later, Mark Rothko’s paintings evoked light in large blocks of colors. The Rothko Room at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., is a meditative experience.

Fog flattens colors. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Other artists, especially photographers, rejected color altogether. At first, technology determined whether photographers could step out of black and white into the color mode. And when color seemed counterproductive, some — including Ansel Adams, chronicler of the Western landscape — chose to stay in black and white. A lifelong conservationist, Adams set the standards for black and white photography, which nature photographers follow today. In Florida, conservationist Clyde Butcher has created monumental black and white landscapes of the Everglades.

These are the bold colors of a ‘Fauve’ sunset in summer. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

I cut my teeth on black and white. In 1963, on my first day at work for a Navy magazine in Washington, my boss handed me the office Rolleiflex, and with a few hasty instructions, sent me out on assignment.

I loved taking photographs. Every day. Everywhere. I bought a Nikon, started a sideline photography business and worked part time for the Washington Starnewspaper. When I moved to West Africa in the late 1960s, a thief stole my precious Nikons. Not able to afford new ones, I went on to other things. Then in Florida in 2001, I bought a camera for my daughter and, suddenly, had to have one for myself.

Dusk on a winter’s day transforms whites into blues. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

It was back to “Every day; everywhere.” In black and white. One day, a pileated woodpecker urged me to make a change. I looked at this beautiful black, white and RED bird and suddenly was a convert to color.

From then on, I saw differently. Florida became a cornucopia of blue and white beaches, a la Renoir; water lilies even Monet would revel in; Fauvist reds of a wildfire. Raindrops on my windshield reminded me of Georges-Pierre Seurat, who depicted landscapes with dots of color. The Rembrandt palette was evoked in the murky greens and browns of an oak hammock on a winter day.

Florida rain brings out color. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

I discovered that color differs throughout the day. Sunrise is pastel pinks with pale blues in the background; sunsets are bold reds, oranges or even purples on a stormy evening. Surprisingly, I found that color gives structure to a scene. Colors can make a photograph three-dimensional or flatten it entirely. Subtle gradations of green create depth (the trail at Sleeping Turtles, for example). Contrasting colors will do the same (the bather against an aquamarine Gulf). Fog flattens.

This could be a Rothko of a Florida spring. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Color conveys the beauty that is Florida. Every day. Everywhere.

Fran Palmeri is the author of Florida Lost and Found: Nature in the Changing Landscape. Her work can be seen on her website: and in “Natural Sarasota County in Images,” a virtual presentation celebrating Sarasota County’s Centennial, on

A pileated woodpecker converted the writer to color. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
Dozens of shades of green can be found in the Florida landscape. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
Why does one small creature wear a coat of many colors? Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
Call this a black and white study with a touch of color. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri