Intro:

The 1960s and ’70s saw a shift in attitude toward color photography. At this point color photography was largely associated with advertisements and amateur snapshots. Many photographers and curators considered color inappropriate for “fine art” photography despite developments such as Edward Steichen’s autochromes. As late as 1960, Walker Evans stated, “There are four simple words which must be whispered: color photography is vulgar.” In such an atmosphere, it was a radical move for upstart photographers to embrace this medium.

By 1965 color images, through television and magazine advertisements, were ubiquitous in everyday American life. In keeping with the radical spirit of the 1960s, color photography was seen as shattering photography’s traditions. The 1966 Museum of Modern Art exhibition of Marie Cosindas’s Polaroids, organized by legendary curator of photography John Szarkowski, proved the willingness of the curator to raise color photography to the realm of high art, where previously only black and white photographs reigned. The 1976 exhibition William Eggleston’s Guide, also curated by Szarkowski, paved the way for photographers to use color for its descriptive qualities. Color photography enabled greater detail and understanding of the photographed object. As photographer Joel Meyerowitz wrote, “When I committed myself to color exclusively, it was a response to a greater need for description… color plays itself out along a richer band of feeling…color suggests more things to look at [and] it tells us more.”

Color photographers engaged in and contributed to movements such as conceptual art, land art, and Pop art while they investigated the social landscape of America. Photographers like Stephen Shore and Eggleston made a career of taking snapshots of mundane objects and places from daily life, ultimately imbuing them with newfound importance and value. The Henry’s permanent collection includes key works from such Chromogenic color pioneers as Shore, Eggleston, John Pfahl, Joel Meyerowitz, and Richard Misrach.

Misa Jeffereis

(Richard Misrach: Untitled [from New California Views portfolio, no 12])

{pnm-video}

Richard Misrach (U.S., b. 1949)

Untitled [from New California Views portfolio, no 12]. 1979

Chromogenic color (Ektacolor) print

10 9/16 x 10 1/2 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Monsen Study Collection of Photography, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen, 83.15

Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Los Angeles, and Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

This untitled image was Richard Misrach’s contribution to a portfolio titled New California Views.  According to artist Victor Landweber, compiler of the portfolio, the purpose of the project was to feature artists who were creating “remarkable new views of California… while relating their work to the image of California as one of photography’s great and enduring themes.” The portfolio included one work each from 21 photographers working in the Golden State at the time: Jerry Burchard, Linda Connor, Joe Deal, Stephen Shore, Jack Welpott, and Henry Wessel, among others.

(Stephen Shore: Bay Theatre, 2nd Street, Ashland, Wisconsin, July 9, 1973)

{pnm-video}

Stephen Shore (U.S., b. 1947)

Bay Theatre, 2nd Street, Ashland, Wisconsin, July 9, 1973. 1973

Chromogenic color print

6 3/16 x 8 1/4 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Monsen Study Collection of Photography, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen, 83.17

On the morning of July 3, 1973, Stephen Shore got into his car and began an eleven-year sequence of photographs called Uncommon Places. This body of work traces, almost biographically, the journey of the artist through American cities, as he constructs identities for them and defines specific places according to his personal experiences. Shore’s Chromogenic color prints, like pop art and pop culture, take the façade of people and places as their theme: “I was thinking that photography deals primarily with the surface of things,” Shore remarked.

(William Eggleston: Untitled (Greenwood, Mississippi))

{pnm-video}

William Eggleston (U.S., b. 1939)

Untitled (Greenwood, Mississippi). 1973, printed 1980

Dye transfer print

11 3/4 x 17 7/8 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen and The Boeing Company, 97.56

Copyright Eggleston Artistic Trust, Courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York

Everything about William Eggleston’s work has to do with color, color that is intense, pure, and super real. One of the first to take advantage of new color photography technologies in the early 1970s, Eggleston pushed the color in his work until it approached garishness. At a time when color was deemed inappropriate in the field of art photography, this pioneer of color photography challenged boundaries; as renowned curator John Szarkowski stated, his works “are fascinating partly because they contradict our expectations.”

(Joel Meyerowitz: Porch, Provincetown [from the Bay Sky Porch series])

{pnm-video}

Joel Meyerowitz (U.S., b. 1938)

Porch, Provincetown [from the Bay Sky Porch series]. 1977, printed 1986

Chromogenic color (Ektacolor) print

20 1/8 x 16 1/4 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen and The Boeing Company, 97.107

With Porch, Provincetown, New York native Joel Meyerowitz created an image that is as emotive as it is minimal. Columns, railing, and roofline provide a frame for an expanse of water and a lone boat. The atmospheric sky, soft lighting, and sparseness of the scene stir the senses of the viewer. The composition, though spare, is not based purely on formal elements of color and line but, according to Meyerowitz, is meant to portray “more of my feelings and less of my thoughts. I want to be clear. I see the photograph as a chip of experience itself.”

(John Pfahl: Great Salt Lake Angles, Great Salt Lake, Utah)

{pnm-video}

John Pfahl (U.S., b. 1939)

Great Salt Lake Angles, Great Salt Lake, Utah. 1977

Chromogenic color (Ektacolor) print

7 1/2 x 9 1/2 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen and The Boeing Company, 97.127

This Chromogenic color print is from a series entitled Altered Landscapes, in which the photographer at once gives a nod to landscape photography, color photography, and conceptual art. John Pfahl investigates and exploits perceptual illusions. Here he has meticulously placed two sticks so that their shadows appear, when photographed, to take on physical substance, creating a further illusion that they are “not really in the photograph”, but are rather the result of some gimmickry.  Pfahl’s conceit is further complicated by the fact that there is of course nothing “real” about a photograph but the photograph itself. This almost minimalist image took hours to create, requiring careful geometrical calculations, waiting for the right light, making test photographs, and at the end, restoring the landscape to the state it was in before Pfahl arrived.