A Photo Teacher |

As Though The Blue and The Sky Were One Thing

Posted in PHOT 165 by Paul Turounet on August 27, 2008

© William Eggleston, from the artist book Wedgewood Blue, 1979

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While the history of color photography dates back to late nineteenth century with the first true color photograph being made with an additive process by the scientist James Clerk Maxwell in 1861 and subsequent technical developments such as color film between 1911 and 1914, it is only in the last forty years that color photography has come of gained importance as a medium of creative expression.

Why did such a long period of time go by from color photography’s inception to its wide-spread use of today? This is particularly interesting question when one considers that we exist in a world full of color and photography’s uncanny ability to seemingly capture what we really see.

The colors unique to color photography produced what once seemed insurmountable problems. Color film’s exaggeration of subject hue and the concurrent difficulty of formally organizing the visible world’s raucous color combinations gave the medium an aura of vulgarity.

Walker Evans deemed color a “vulgar” medium and stated that many “color photographers confuse color with noise” and that they “(blow) you down with screeching hues alone…a bebop of electric blues, furious reds and poison greens.”

– from The New Color Photography by Sally Eauclaire

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It never was a conscious thing. I had wanted to see a lot of things in color because the world is in color.

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Beginning in the 1970’s, there was a heightened level of critical discourse about color photography initially with the writings of John Szarkowski (Introduction to William Eggleston’s Guide, 1976), Max Koxloff (The Coming of Age of Color in Artforum, January 1975) followed by an extensive survey and critical analysis by Sally Eauclaire with The New Color Photography (1981) and American Independents (1989). Each, along with others, firmly established a critical discourse in which color photography’s intrinsic quality was due to the photographers’ thorough understanding and use of a full color spectrum and its endless possibilities of subtle gradation and transition.

Color photography was no longer discussed and considered as being “about color” – a critical catch phrase frequently used to justify many photographs in which concentrations of primary or secondary hues screech for attention. Rather, the new color photographers consider color’s role in a formal, descriptive and symbolic totality.

– from The New Color Photography by Sally Eauclaire

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After reading the critical discussion and analysis from The New American Luminism by Jonathan Green and the Introduction to William Eggleston’s Guide by John Szarkowski, consider the following and discuss as you embark on your own development and use of color as a medium of creative expression in your photographic practice.

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  1. What do both authors have to say about the early uses of color and problems photographers experienced when using color as a form of creative expression?
  2. What do Green and Szarkowski suggest as critical considerations for how to think about photographing in color?
  3. Who is working in color photography (now or from the essays) and is a source of inspiration for you (include link)?

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Click on the PDF | link to download | view the essay:

The New American Luminism.pdf

Introduction to William Eggleston’s Guide (link) and William Eggleston’s Guide.pdf

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