Exhibit Traces Rise of Color Photography

By Koeppel, Fredric | The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), January 17, 2014 | Go to article overview

Exhibit Traces Rise of Color Photography


Koeppel, Fredric, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)


When Museum of Modern Art curator John Szarkowski devoted an exhibition to the color photography of the then-unknown William Eggleston in 1976, the storm of criticism was intense. The exhibition, said one commentator, was "the most hated show of the year." Color photography was the purview of slick magazine advertising and fashion layouts, not meant for museums and galleries.

Within a decade, however, as surely as CDs quickly replaced vinyl and now Internet downloading replaced CDs, fine art photography became a color medium. Black-and-white photography was pass.

"We live in a color world," said John Rohrbach, senior curator of photographs at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, meaning not just that human beings perceive the world in color but that the media film, video, television, print and photography are drenched in color.

Rohrbach organized the exhibition "Color! American Photography Transformed," opening Sunday at Dixon Gallery and Gardens for display through March 23. He will be at the Dixon on opening day to talk about transformational implications of color photography.

While Memphis-native Eggleston became one of the most influential forces in photography in the second half of the 20th century, photographers had grappled with the issues of color since the process was developed in the 1830s in France and England. "It was a definite disappointment," said Rohrbach, in a telephone interview, "to early photographers that their cameras could only capture black and white, but within 10 or 15 years of photography's invention, the convention of black and white took hold. That is, we should take what the camera produces and accept it."

Still, photographers and the public regarded color as the ideal for which hand-tinted daguerreotypes could not be a complete substitute. The "problem of color" entailed two issues: first, transforming the image to color on the photographic plate, and, second, "fixing" the color so that it would be permanent. What ultimately had to occur was the invention of photographic materials that would register all of the colors of the spectrum.

The invention of Autochrome in the late 19th century by brothers Auguste and Louis Lumire, and its commercial introduction in 1907, advanced notions of color photography, but the process was slow and expensive. …

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