Saturday, 27 February 2016

Just add color

Historically photography to most people is black and white but look through these pages and be amazed at the photos from decades ago and in color. First off the obvious thing was to hand-color mono prints, OK for the masses but photograhers before 1900 were experimenting with film to create something like real life. Page sixteen has a panorama of a French town taken by Ducos du Hauron in 1877, the caption says it is the first color image of an outdoor scene. The Lumiere brothers, in 1907, were the first to sell a commercial product, the autochrome, that enabled photographers to take reasonable color photos. A really nice feature of the book is that all the images dealing with the early development of the medium (up to the mid-1920s) look so lovely, with their softness and warmth of reds and ochres. This rapidly disappeared in a decade or so as film technology advanced and delivered a product that captured precise edges.

Once it was technically perfected color took off but mostly in the commercial world of advertising and publishing, especially magazines. The art world ignored vulgar color (it's so life like!) until John Szarkowski's 1976 MoMA exhibition of photos by Willam Eggleston. The book takes the subject right up to date with the last chapter looking a digital work.

The author considers color, least in the photos selected, in the art sense (including documentary material) rather than looking too closely at the popular use of the medium with Kodachrome and other mass market film producers. I thought the image selection throughtout the pages first-class, lots of work from famous names but luckily not their best known pictures. This gives the subject a freshness and makes it much more interesting.

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