Capturing the world in color was one of photography’s greatest aspirations from the very beginnings of the medium. When color photography became a reality with the introduction of the Autochrome in 1907, prominent photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz were overjoyed. But they quickly came to reject color photography as too aligned with human sight. It took decades for artists to come to understand the creative potential of color, and only in 1976, when John Szarkowski showed William Eggleston’s photographs at the Museum of Modern Art, did the art world embrace color. By accepting color’s flexibility and emotional transcendence, Szarkowski and Eggleston transformed photography, giving the medium equal artistic stature with painting, but also initiating its demise as an independent art.
The catalogue of a major exhibition at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, which holds one of the premier collections of American photography, Color tells, for the first time, the fascinating story of color’s integration into American fine art photography and how its acceptance revolutionized the practice of art. Tracing the development of color photography from the first color photograph in 1851 to digital photography, John Rohrbach describes photographers’ initial rejection of color, their decades-long debates over what color brings to photography, and how their gradual acceptance of color released photography from its status as a second-tier art form. He shows how this absorption of color instigated wide acceptance of a fundamentally new definition of photography, one that blends photography’s documentary foundations with the creative flexibility of painting. Sylvie Pénichon offers a succinct survey of the technological advances that made color in photography a reality and have since marked its multifaceted development. These texts, illuminated by seventy-five full-page plates and more than eighty illustrations, make this book a groundbreaking contribution to photographic studies.
Chapter One: Inventing Color Photography
Chapter Two: Defining Color, 1936–1970
Chapter Three: Using Color, 1970–1990
Chapter Four: Interrogating Color, 1990–2010
By John Rohrbach
From Potatoes to Pixels: A Short Technical History of Color Photography
By Sylvie Pénichon
List of Plates
"This [book] makes an important contribution to the fields of photohistory and cultural history. . . . You really get a sense of key players in the field: who had influence, how they exerted it, and what their agenda was (even if the agenda changed over time.) There is even a degree of suspense as the history unfolds."
Britt Salvesen, Curator and Head of the Photography Department, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
"Rohrbach has uncovered, through interviews and secondary sources, a great deal that has not been stated in print before . . . a superior work."
Arthur Ollman, San Diego State University, Founding Director of the Museum of Photographic Arts