If you pull out a point-and-shoot camera or a cell phone to capture a landscape of red-tile roofs and brilliant blue water or merely notice a market’s inviting array of limes and lemons or avocados and apples did you consider that it was color that caught your eye? Would the impact have been the same if seen in black and white?
Certainly, black and white photography is appreciated as an art medium but since mid-last century, shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art New York have been calling attention to emerging color photography trends and the artists that produced them.
In addition, the Milwaukee Art Museum entered the discussion with “Color: A Spectrum of Recent Photography,” a 1979 show that included works by William Christenberry, Neal Slavin, Joel Meyerowitz, William Eggleston and John Pfahl.
The museum shows gave stamps of appreciative approval to color photos as artistic expression.
Now the Milwaukee Art Museum is back with “Color Rush: 75 years of Color Photography in America,” a major, don’t miss, retrospective on view through May 19, 2013.
Slide shows, film clips, framed photos and book and magazine displays guide visitors through color process changes and usage in the United States from 1907 to 1981.
The show’s nearly 200 color items include works by such master photographers known for black and white images as Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Helen Levitt and Harry Callahan.
It also includes a Kodachrome slideshow done by László Moholy-Nagy between 1937 and 1946. Moholy-Nagy took what was considered atypical shots of otherwise typical scenes. He also experimented with color filters.
“Respectively, these years mark the introduction of the first commercially available color photographic process—the autochrome—and the published survey that signified the widespread acceptance of contemporary art photography in color,” said Lisa Hostetler, exhibition co-curator with Katherine Bussard.
Former MAM curator of photography, Hostetler is the McEvoy Family Curator of Photography at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
“In the intervening years, color photography captured the popular imagination through its visibility in magazines such as Life and Vogue, as well as through its accessibility on the marketplace thanks to companies such as Kodak. At the same time, artists were exploring the potential of color photography for their own creative practice,” said Hostetler.
Bussard, associate curator of photography at the Art Institute of Chicago further explained the show’s intention.
“This exhibition and catalogue give form to the fascinating dialogue that always surrounded American color photography. Together, Lisa Hostetler and I set out to rectify the problematic—if prevailing—notion that color photography prior to the 1970s was either amateur or commercial and only recognized as such. The historical reality was never that simple, never so definitive,” said Bussard.,
The show ends with a color photograph by Cindy Sherman, a photographer who is her own model. Sherman experiments with film techniques for her black and white and color series.
Her early photos, tableaus and large-scale photos are featured at the Dallas Museum of Art March 17 through June 8. Organized by the Museum of Modern Art New York, “Cindy Sherman” is a retrospective of her work from the mid-1970s to today.
The best way to learn more about color photography's changes and use starting with 1907 works by Alfred Stieglitz and a1914 photo by Helen Messinger Murdoch at the beginning of the show to Joel Meyerowitz's 1970s Cape Cod pieces and a Cindy Sherman photo at the end, is to do the audio tour.
As an example, at Stop 105 in front of Edward Steichen" "Bouquet of Flowers," narrator Alissa Schapiro says, "Instead of rendering these flowers realistically to show the actual colors of the petals, he altered the matrices in order to create surreal chromatic effects that show his interest in experimentation with color as opposed to a realistic rendering of the still life in front of him."
At Stop 107, a Farm Security Administration slideshow taken by photographer Jack Delano from 1939 to 1945, Bussard says "These pictures are some of the most heart wrenching and riveting of the Great Depression." Hostetler adds, "While we usually associate these FSA images with black and white photography, the photographers did receive color slide film and made many color images."
“Color Rush: 75 years of Color Photography in America” is on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum now through May 19, 2013. Special exhibits are included in admission tickets. Museum admission is $15 adults with discounts for seniors, students and military. Admission is free on first Thursdays. Closed Mondays.
The museum is about 1 1/2 hours north of Chicago. For directions and more information visit MAM and call 414-224-3200. The Milwaukee Art Museum is on the lakefront at 700 N. Art Museum Drive, Milwaukee, WI 53202.