Growing up, my first camera was a 35mm Canon purchased from a drugstore. Haphazardly, I would take photographs, mostly of unsuspecting family members—I find this to be ironic as I’m not one to have my picture taken, I am most comfortable behind the camera lens. The current art exhibition, Color! American Photography Transformed, at The Amon Carter Museum of American Art celebrates the transformation and introduction of color photography into the artistic world.
As an amateur photographer (at best) I know that black and white photos are typically considered to be artistic and the standard accepted format in the art world, whereas, color photos tend to be more for the commercial side of things. Though, if done correctly, color photography can be just as artistic. This seems to be the underlying theme of the current art exhibition at the museum.
The viewer is taken through a timeline of photos beginning with the very first applications of color, which were applied directly to black and white photos by hand from an artist. An example of this is Woman with two daughters, ca. 1850s, which shows the resulting image to be a very unnatural looking photograph that makes its subjects resemble living porcelain dolls. This, however, was probably an accepted photograph for the times, and was probably considered to be more pleasant to the eye and more lifelike than the usual drab and neutral tones of sepia that most photographs took on at that time.
Some of the photographs on display had me wondering if they were images that have perhaps been digitally rendered or restored, or taken at a different time from what the date suggests. One such image is the photograph by Jack Delano, Chopping cotton on rented land near White Plains, Greene County, Georgia, 1941 (a long title and a bit of a mouthful, I know). This image is so sharp, that it seems like it might have been taken in the early nineties with your standard SLR film camera. The contrast between the red clay ground and the blue sky is amazing, and the color of the fabric worn by the women would have been lost had the image been taken in black and white. I’m unsure as to what kind of camera technology was available in the ’40s, but this image was definitely taken by a very skilled photographer.
Progression through the exhibition shows how color photography was becoming an accepted form of artistic expression. Artist’s would use the use of color to their advantage creating surreal images that appear to be plucked from someone’s dream. Two such images, that seem very surreal, are Revenge of the Goldfish, 1980, by Sandy Skoglund and Untitled (Dylan on the Floor) from Twilight Series, by Gregory Crewdson. The first image being the most surreal of the two with bright orange goldfish swimming everywhere in a room of complete blue. The latter image is big enough that it could have been part of the past exhibition: Big Pictures. I loved that the picture had a matte finish to it and showed so much detail throughout the background of the photo. The story behind the photo being that the photographer’s father was a psychoanalyst and had an office downstairs; and, as a kid, Gregory Crewdson would eavesdrop and could hear the therapy sessions his father would hold through the second floor.
Waiting in Line #21 by Anthony Hernandez is an awesome example of how color can work so well in a photograph. It shows how a simple everyday situation or location can be captured in an artistic manner. The bright red line divider in this unassuming building (a DMV if I remember correctly) cuts a line vertically against the blue chairs and the blurred greenish tint of the background. I was unable to find a large enough image of the photograph to add to this post, but was able to find a thumbnail sized photo from the Seattle Art Museum’s website.
Color! American Photography Transformed runs through January 15, 2014. If you’re a fan of photography, as I am, you should definitely plan a trip to The Amon Carter Museum and check out this exhibition.