History of Photography

History of Photography

A World History of Photography

The Story Behind the Pictures 1827-1991

Photographers' Dictionary



Chapter 12









The New Era of Color Photography

Another significant transformation of camera imagery since the 1960s has been the increase in the number of creative photographers working with dye-color materials. Over the past several decades, improvements in color film and processing have resulted in widespread use of color, first for advertising and publicity photographs, and then for personal expression. The absence of color in photography had been regretted from the beginning; hand-coloring was considered not just acceptable but essential to enliven the pallid tones of daguerreotype and paper portraits, as well as some scenic views. Because both photographers and the public believed that images in color were more artistic and more natural, efforts to find workable color processes occupied individuals throughout the latter part of the 19th century. When the Lumicres began to market Autochrome in 1907, it was immediately successful.

The chromatic effects achieved on Autochrome plates were the result of adding starch granules stained with dyes to silver emulsion on glass. Later experiments to improve and simplify color photography were based on a different theory (see A Short Technical History, Part II), but they, too. involved the incorporation of dyes with silver. However, by the time a practicable dye-color film appeared on the market (three-color Kodachrome in 1935, Agfacolor Neu in 1936, followed by Ektachrome in 1946), the aesthetic of photography had changed. Most creative photographers of the time favored straight images of reality and found the opulent colors of the dyes used in film unsuitable for the depiction of the landscape, the documentation of social conditions, or even the conjuring up of subjective feelings. As a result, early color film was used mostly by amateurs and advertising photographers.

While most documentarians and aesthetic photographers ignored color photography, and snapshot amateurs seemed content with its cheery colors during the 1940s and '50s, the advertising community was determined to explore the potential of color for "making the implausible plausible." Arriving on the scene during the severe economic depression of the 1930s, color film was regarded as a way to glamorize images of hard-to-sell products. By coupling real and unreal, by creating abstractions and surreal statements, by giving consumer goods an attractive gloss, these early enthusiasts of commercial color helped establish a direction for work in color, Within the past 30 or so years, large numbers of photographers primarily concerned with self-expression have further expanded the boundaries of color photography.

Given the emphasis on abstraction in American visual art of the immediate postwar period, it is not surprising that of the few noncommercial photographers who did experiment with color film in the early years, several were most intrigued by its formal possibilities rather than its descriptive ability. In a 1946 abstraction based on window signs (pi. no. 771), Arthur Siegel treated the red neon tubing as an element in an allover linear pattern—a visual metaphor of nervous energy that not only evokes the tensions of modern urban life but also suggests the calligraphic style of several of the Abstract Expressionist painters. Seemingly more illusionistic in terms of its depiction of space is Harry Callahan's color image (pi. no. 772) that plays off blocks of intense blue-green, black, and reds in a mundane street still life, giving pleasure with its geometric simplicity and its color contrasts.

771. ARTHUR SIEGEL. Untitled (Drycleaners), 1946.
Color (chromogenic development; transparency. Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, Chicago.

772. HARRY CALLAHAN. Chicago, 1951.
Dye-transfer (dye-imbibition) print. Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.

HARRY CALLAHAN (see collection)

The natural landscape rather than the built environmerit engaged the interest of early noncommercial color photographers. Color film enabled Eliot Porter and Charles Pratt, for example, to create formally satisfying images and at the same time capture the array of colors found in rocks and foliage under varying conditions of light. Porter, who began his career as a naturalist photographer of bird life, often emphasized the delicate tracery of patterns and colors in foliage and grasses (pi. no. 773). In a view of Maine rocks (pi. no. 774), Pratt achieved an engaging balance between actuality—the weightiness and texture of the stones—and formal resolution: the abstract design and subtle modulation of color.

During the 1970s, the strong interest in abstraction among European and Far Eastern photographers was moderated by an attachment to the real world and a desire to celebrate its wonders in a fresh way. Landscapes by the Italian photographer Franco Fontana (pi. no. 775) that on first glance appear to be geometric abstractions reveal themselves, on closer inspection, to be fields of wheat, flowers, or upturned soil. On the other side of the world, Hiroshi Hamaya of Japan and Grant Mudford of Australia exemplify photographers who handle color as an element both of nature and of art, seeking moments when light creates extraordinary chromatic happenings (pi. no. 776).

Within the last several decades, the preoccupation with the aesthetic potential of color photography has continued. The color in Ruth Orkin's many views from the window of her New York apartment (pi. no. 777) is meant to reveal the beauty of atmospheric and seasonal changes. Jan Groover's finely tuned color sense and tasteful handling of form arc apparent in her polished tabletop still lifes (pi. no. 778). The lively color contrasts and geometrical arrangements of printed papers and reproductions of art composed and photographed by Victor Schrager are also unabashedly aesthetic.

Influenced by the pervasive interest in popular culture during the 1970s, many photographers turned to color for expressing their reactions to the consumerist emblems of American middle-class life—automobiles, eating places, swimming pools, advertising, and street signage. Among them, William Eggleston, who was singled out by John Szarkowski as die individual responsible for "inventing color photography," used color film to scrutinize the deserted streets, waste products, and abandoned cars in his home environment in the South (pi. no. 779). These works have been seen both as vivid evocations of the banality and uneasiness of small-town life and as aesthetically contrived chromatic exercises. Other Americans who, like Eggleston, produce what may seem at first glance to be a color catalog of visual facts of the American scene include William Christenberry, Joel Meyerowitz, and Stephen Shore. In switching from spontaneous views of street life to considered compositions of the built and the natural environments, Meyerowitz also transformed his handling of color, renouncing the jazzy dissonance of his earlier works for the mellow harmonies evident in his Cape Cod series (pi. no. 780). The cool and crystalline colors in Shore's images, along with their rigorous sense of architectonic structure, have the effect of laundering banal vistas; a street view made in Los Angeles (pi. no. 781) transforms a chaotic jumble of gas stations and signage into an aesthetically satisfying object.

That dye-color materials tend to cast a rosy tint over landscape and urban scenes is evident in works by Mitch Epstein, David Hanson, Len Jenshel, and Joel Sternfeld, among others. Contrasting the muted grays and browns of die terrain and buildings with the ethereal glow of the set-ting sun (pi. no. 782), Epstein views the landscape of India as a stage setting for exotic effects, thus continuing in color a tradition established during the 1850s in black and white photographs of the Near East and the Orient. In the same sense, the tasteful colorations of the interiors by Kishin Shinoyama, Japan's renowned color photographer, seem to exude a romantic aura (pi. no. 783). These colorful works, along with such images as Meyerowitz's Cape Cod and St. Louis Arch series, often invite comparison with the glossy ads and color pages in travel magazines.

A somewhat different approach to color can be seen in the work of photographers who play up strident effects and unpleasing contrasts. Mark Cohen, for example, pushed saturated reds, blues, and yellows in order to emphasize the raucous energy he perceived in urban street life. Domestic interiors with humdrum objects and plants by Roger Mertin indicate that he adjusted exposure, processing methods, and lighting in order to drain the color of its lushness. The tedium of institutional life is emphasized by the uniformly somber tones of the lecture halls, libraries, and lobbies depicted by the German photographer Candida Hofer. Unreal coloration combined with blurred focus gives banal street scenes and interiors by the French photographer Dolores Marat a mysterious and painterly appearance. Photographers concerned with the deterioration of the landscape, including Richard Misrach (pi. no. 784) and Barbara Norfleet (pi. no. 785), have found that color film makes the contrasts between unravaged nature and garish industrial waste all the more visible and poignant.

773. ELIOT PORTER. Red Bud Trees in Bottomland near Red River Gorge, Kentucky, 1968.
Dye-transfer (dye-imbibition) print. Daniel Wolf, Inc., New York.

774. CHARLES PRATT. Maine, 1968.
Dye-transfer (dye-imbibition) print. Sander Gallery, New York.

776. GRANT MUDFORD. Ayers Rock, 1973.
Color (chromogenic development) transparency.

777. RUTH ORKIN. Balloon, 1977.
Gelatin silver print.

775. FRANCO FONTANA. Landscape, 1975.
Color (chromogenic development) transparency.


FRANCO FONTANA (see collection)

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Franco Fontana is an Italian photographer born in Modena, Italy in 1933, best known for his abstract colour landscapes. Fontana's photos have been used as album cover art for records produced by the ECM jazz label.

He is known as the inventor of the photographic line referred to as concept of line He began working as an amateur photographer in 1961. His first personal exposition was in 1968 in Modena. Since then he has participated in more than 400 expositions - collective and personal - and his work is bought in approximately 60 museum collections all over the world. He has been signed for numerous publicity campaigns, as FIAT, VOLKSWAGEN, National Railways, VOLVO, VERSACE, CANON, KODAK, SNAM, STET, MONDRIAN, J.WALKER, ALITALIA, SWISSAIR, LA RINASCENTE. He works with TIME-LIFE, VOGUE USA, VOGUE FRANCE, VENDERDI DI REPUBBLICA, PANORAMA, FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE, EPOCA and many more distinguished publications. His work has been published in more than 40 books in various editions in Italian, Japanese, French, German, Swiss, English and Spanish. His numerous awards include the 1989 Tokyo Photographer Society of Japan - The 150 Years of Photography - Photographer Award.



778. JAN GROOVER. Untitled, 1979.
Type-C (chromogenic development) print. Blum Helrnan Gallery, New York.

779. WILLIAM EGGLESTON. Memphis, Tennessee, 1971.
Dye-transfer (dye-imbibition) print. Middendorf Gallery, Washington, D.C.

780. JOEL MEYEROWITZ. Porch, Prorincctown, 1977.
Ektacolor (chromogenic development) print.

782. MITCH EPSTEIN. Pushkar Camel Fair, Rajasthan, India, 1978.
Ektacolor (chromogenic development) print.

783. KISHIN SHINOYAMA. House, 1975.
Color (chromogenic development) transparency.

KISHIN SHINOYAMA  (see collection)

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Kishin Shinoyama Shinoyama Kishin?, b. Shinjuku, Tokyo, 3 December 1940) is a Japanese photographer.

Shinoyama graduated from Nihon University. He worked with the Light Publicity agency while still a student, and freelanced after graduation.
Shinoyama has put out a large number of books of photographs of girls, dressed, mostly undressed, and nude.
He is married to Saori Minami and their son is actor Akinobu Shinoyama.




784. RICHARD MISRACH. Flood, Snltou Sea, 1983.
Chromogenic dye-coupler print. Robert Mann Gallery, New York.

785. BARBARA NORFLEET. Catbird and Bedspring Debris, 1984.
Cibachrome print.

Controlling the color gives the photographer one more expressive tool in handling portraiture and still life. The illustrative settings and highly saturated hues that characterize Neal Slavin's group portraits of from two to two thousand figures (pi no. 786) lend a sprightly note to works that parody both commercial portraiture of the past and the fabrications of television ads. In still lires by Marie Cosindas (pi. no. 787), the muted yet harmonious colors are designed to enhance the unabashed romanticism projected by the objects themselves—old lace, brocades, dolls, flowers. Color and photographic manipulations work well together. Indeed, whether color is achieved by using dye-color films and prints; by employing such processes as Fresson (a complicated gum process), gum bichromate, and cyanotype; by hand-tinting images; or by selecting hues from among the millions available in computer pro-grams, it usually heightens the aesthetic and affective impact of these creations, as can be seen in a wide range of contemporary examples. To cite only a few: Rosamond W. Purcell is among those who combine color with montage (pi. no. 788) to invent a personal iconography. The sense of uneasiness evoked by her metamorphoses of animal and human forms owes as much to the eerie colors as to the strange blending of shapes. In Olivia Parker's still life, the addition of bright red cords to the dull tones of the decaying pears affords an unsettling contrast (pi. no. 789). By massaging the wet emulsion of Polaroid film, Lucas Samaras creates lurid, dripping colors to accentuate his erotic fantasies (pi. no. 790). The vibrant colors in Barbara Kasten's architectural and nature scenes (pi. no. 791) result from her adept use of tinted filters and gels and manipulative processing techniques to transform mundane structures into chromatic extravaganzas.

The revival of historical processes has enabled some contemporary photographers to use color while bypassing problems associated with dye-color materials. Hand-tinting—whether subtle, as in the work of Christopher James, who is restrained in his use of paint and toners applied to silver prints, or strongly chromatic, as in images by Janice Mehlman that maintain a tenuous balance between painting and photography (pi. no. 792)—is one method of transforming the mechanically produced photograph into a unique object, of moving it from realism to art. Instead of using photographic emulsions as a base, images can be projected onto canvas, and bleaching agents, pastels, or tinting colors can be used. Turn-of-the-century processes that provided the Pictorialists of that time with a way to avoid "mechanicalization" have also been revived. Fresson printing is preferred by the French photographer Bernard Plossu and the American Sheila Metzner, while Betty Hahn and Bea Nettles (pi. nos. 795, 798) favor gum bichromate in combination with other manipulations. In noting that "art is an attitude that produces an object by using media," Joyce Neimanas asserts the right recognized by all of these photographers to employ whatever means are available, including color, to create imaginative works.

In the hands of creative photographers, color can be romantically nuanced, bellicose, eerie, chic, or sensuous, but rarely is it real looking. In fact, in the past, photographs in color of real situations have added an aura of ambiguity, triggering an element of distrust on the part of viewers, perhaps because the saturated dyes of color film seem to have an equivocal relationship to the harsher realities of social conditions. Recent changes in taste, however, have made socially oriented documentation and photojournalistic images in color more acceptable.

Among the street photographers who have used color film to encapsulate their perceptions of urban social conditions are Bruce Davidson, Helen Levitt, Jerome Liebling, and Danny Lyon. Levitt, one of the first to find color film sympathetic to such endeavors, captured dissonances and harmonies, contrasting the drabness of tenement backgrounds with the lively colors of the clothing worn by her subjects. The hues in Davidson's large-format subway pictures are sometimes lurid and sometimes pretty, giving an edginess to the gestures and expressions of these bored and discontented riders of New York's underground. (In his later work in Central Park, Davidson returned to black and white, preferring panoramic format, optic distortions, and blurry focus to strident color as a way to suggest the meaning of the park for its users.)

That color has become acceptable to photographers who document social realities is in part due to the greatly increased use of color images in picture journals. During the 1950s, the dye-color films that had been perfected just before the second World War made it possible for photojournalists to work in color, while improved printing methods enabled the journals to print their stories. This is not to suggest that magazines had not printed photographs in color before this time. In fact, in the 1910s, some magazines, notably National Geographic, had regularly featured color reproductions from Autochrome plates. In general, though, color processes and the methods of making engraved or lithographic color plates for periodicals were too time consuming and expensive for popular journals. The color images taken by several of the Farm Security Administration photographers, for example, were not felt to be evocative enough, in contrast to their work in black and white, to warrant the expense of reproducing them in print media. In 1952, Life reproduced its first picture story in color—a series of views of New York by Ernst Haas. A former painter, Haas found color film to be an inspiring tool for "transforming an object from what it is to what you want it to be." During the 1970s and '80s, color film improved, and magazines were even more willing to print in color, prompting greater numbers of photo journalists to use this material to express a wide range of perceptions about the actualities framed by their viewfinders. For instance, color adds a realistic dimension to Larry Burrows's images of Vietnam and augments the poignancy of Susan Meiselas's photographs of the Sandinista uprising in Nicaragua (pi. no. 793). Maggie Steber and Alex Webb are other photojournalists who have transformed war report-age by using color. Color enhances the dissolute sensuality of Miguel Rio Branco's story of the Maciel district in the Brazilian city of Salvador (pi. no. 794). With the increased use of digital cameras for recording events in the field, news documentation in color will undoubtedly become even more common.

786. NEAL SLAVIN. National Cheerleaders Association, 1974.
 Ektacolor (chromogenic development) print.

787. MARIE COSINDAS. Conger Metcalf Still Life, 1976.
Polaroid (internal dye-diffusion transfer) print. Courtesy the artist.

788. ROSAMOND W. PURCELL. Untitled, c. 1978.
 Polaroid (internal dye-diffusion transfer) print. Marcuse Pfeifer Gallery, New York.

789. OLIVIA PARKER. Four Pears, 1979.
Polacolor (internal dye-diffusion transfer) print. Marcuse Pfcifcr Gallery, New York.

790. LUCAS SAMARAS. March 19,1983, 1983.
Polaroid (internal dye-diffusion transfer) prints. PaceWildenstein Gallery, New York.

791. BARBARA KASTEN. El Medol, Roman Quarry, Tarragona, Spain, 1992.
Digital photo painting on vinyl acrylic, back-lit.

792. JANICE MEHLMAN. Midnight Passage, 1993.
Hand-painted silver print. Private collection.

793. SUSAN MEISELAS. Nicaragua, 1978.
Color (chromogenic development) transparency.

794. MIGUEL RIO BRANCO. Prostitutes of Model, Salvador, Brazil, 1976.
Color (chromogenic development) transparency.

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