The New Era of Color Photography
Another significant transformation
of camera imagery since the 1960s has been the increase in the
number of creative photographers working with dye-color materials.
Over the past several decades, improvements in color film and
processing have resulted in widespread use of color, first for
advertising and publicity photographs, and then for personal
expression. The absence of color in photography had been regretted
from the beginning; hand-coloring was considered not just acceptable
but essential to enliven the pallid tones of daguerreotype and paper
portraits, as well as some scenic views. Because both photographers
and the public believed that images in color were more artistic and
more natural, efforts to find workable color processes occupied
individuals throughout the latter part of the 19th century. When the
Lumicres began to market Autochrome in 1907, it was immediately
The chromatic effects achieved on
Autochrome plates were the result of adding starch granules stained
with dyes to silver emulsion on glass. Later experiments to improve
and simplify color photography were based on a different
theory , but they, too. involved the incorporation of dyes with
silver. However, by the time a practicable dye-color film appeared
on the market (three-color Kodachrome in 1935, Agfacolor Neu in
1936, followed by Ektachrome in 1946), the aesthetic of photography
had changed. Most creative photographers of the time favored
straight images of reality and found the opulent colors of the dyes
used in film unsuitable for the depiction of the landscape, the
documentation of social conditions, or even the conjuring up of
subjective feelings. As a result, early color film was used mostly
by amateurs and advertising photographers.
While most documentarians and
aesthetic photographers ignored color photography, and snapshot
amateurs seemed content with its cheery colors during the 1940s and
'50s, the advertising community was determined to explore the
potential of color for "making the implausible plausible." Arriving
on the scene during the severe economic depression of the 1930s,
color film was regarded as a way to glamorize images of hard-to-sell
products. By coupling real and unreal, by creating abstractions and
surreal statements, by giving consumer goods an attractive gloss,
these early enthusiasts of commercial color helped establish a
direction for work in color, Within the past 30 or so years, large
numbers of photographers primarily concerned with self-expression
have further expanded the boundaries of color photography.
Given the emphasis on abstraction
in American visual art of the immediate postwar period, it is not
surprising that of the few noncommercial photographers who did
experiment with color film in the early years, several were most
intrigued by its formal possibilities rather than its descriptive
ability. In a 1946 abstraction based on window signs, Arthur Siegel
treated the red neon tubing as an element in an allover linear
pattern—a visual metaphor of nervous energy that not only evokes the
tensions of modern urban life but also suggests the calligraphic
style of several of the Abstract Expressionist painters. Seemingly
more illusionistic in terms of its depiction of space is Harry
Callahan's color image that plays off blocks of intense blue-green,
black, and reds in a mundane street still life, giving pleasure with
its geometric simplicity and its color contrasts.
ARTHUR SIEGEL. Untitled (Drycleaners), 1946.
Color (chromogenic development; transparency. Courtesy Edwynn Houk
HARRY CALLAHAN. Chicago, 1951.
Dye-transfer (dye-imbibition) print. Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.
The natural landscape rather than
the built environmerit engaged the interest of early noncommercial
color photographers. Color film enabled Eliot Porter and Charles
Pratt, for example, to create formally satisfying images and at the
same time capture the array of colors found in rocks and foliage
under varying conditions of light. Porter, who began his career as a
naturalist photographer of bird life, often emphasized the delicate
tracery of patterns and colors in foliage and grasses. In a view of
Maine rocks, Pratt achieved an engaging balance between
actuality—the weightiness and texture of the stones—and formal
resolution: the abstract design and subtle modulation of color.
During the 1970s, the strong
interest in abstraction among European and Far Eastern photographers
was moderated by an attachment to the real world and a desire to
celebrate its wonders in a fresh way. Landscapes by the Italian
photographer Franco Fontana that on first glance appear to be
geometric abstractions reveal themselves, on closer inspection, to
be fields of wheat, flowers, or upturned soil. On the other side of
the world, Hiroshi Hamaya of Japan and Grant Mudford of Australia
exemplify photographers who handle color as an element both of
nature and of art, seeking moments when light creates extraordinary
Within the last several decades,
the preoccupation with the aesthetic potential of color photography
has continued. The color in Ruth Orkin's many views from the window
of her New York apartment is meant to reveal the beauty of
atmospheric and seasonal changes. Jan Groover's finely tuned color
sense and tasteful handling of form arc apparent in her polished
tabletop still lifes. The lively color contrasts and geometrical
arrangements of printed papers and reproductions of art composed and
photographed by Victor Schrager are also unabashedly aesthetic.
Influenced by the pervasive
interest in popular culture during the 1970s, many photographers
turned to color for expressing their reactions to the consumerist
emblems of American middle-class life—automobiles, eating places,
swimming pools, advertising, and street signage. Among them, William
Eggleston, who was singled out by John Szarkowski as die individual
responsible for "inventing color photography," used color film to
scrutinize the deserted streets, waste products, and abandoned cars
in his home environment in the South. These works have been seen
both as vivid evocations of the banality and uneasiness of
small-town life and as aesthetically contrived chromatic exercises.
Other Americans who, like Eggleston, produce what may seem at first
glance to be a color catalog of visual facts of the American scene
include William Christenberry, Joel Meyerowitz, and Stephen Shore.
In switching from spontaneous views of street life to considered
compositions of the built and the natural environments, Meyerowitz
also transformed his handling of color, renouncing the jazzy
dissonance of his earlier works for the mellow harmonies evident in
his Cape Cod series. The cool and crystalline colors in Shore's
images, along with their rigorous sense of architectonic structure,
have the effect of laundering banal vistas; a street view made in
Los Angeles transforms a chaotic jumble of gas stations and signage
into an aesthetically satisfying object.
That dye-color materials tend to
cast a rosy tint over landscape and urban scenes is evident in works
by Mitch Epstein, David Hanson, Len Jenshel, and Joel Sternfeld,
among others. Contrasting the muted grays and browns of die terrain
and buildings with the ethereal glow of the set-ting sun, Epstein
views the landscape of India as a stage setting for exotic effects,
thus continuing in color a tradition established during the 1850s in
black and white photographs of the Near East and the Orient. In the
same sense, the tasteful colorations of the interiors by Kishin
Shinoyama, Japan's renowned color photographer, seem to exude a
romantic aura. These colorful works, along with such images as
Meyerowitz's Cape Cod and St. Louis Arch series, often invite
comparison with the glossy ads and color pages in travel magazines.
A somewhat different approach to
color can be seen in the work of photographers who play up strident
effects and unpleasing contrasts. Mark Cohen, for example, pushed
saturated reds, blues, and yellows in order to emphasize the raucous
energy he perceived in urban street life. Domestic interiors with
humdrum objects and plants by Roger Mertin indicate that he adjusted
exposure, processing methods, and lighting in order to drain the
color of its lushness. The tedium of institutional life is
emphasized by the uniformly somber tones of the lecture halls,
libraries, and lobbies depicted by the German photographer Candida
Hofer. Unreal coloration combined with blurred focus gives banal
street scenes and interiors by the French photographer Dolores Marat
a mysterious and painterly appearance. Photographers concerned with
the deterioration of the landscape, including Richard Misrach and
Barbara Norfleet, have found that color film makes the contrasts
between unravaged nature and garish industrial waste all the more
visible and poignant.
ELIOT PORTER. Red Bud Trees in Bottomland near Red River Gorge, Kentucky,
Dye-transfer (dye-imbibition) print. Daniel Wolf, Inc., New York.
CHARLES PRATT. Maine, 1968.
Dye-transfer (dye-imbibition) print. Sander Gallery, New York.
GRANT MUDFORD. Ayers Rock, 1973.
Color (chromogenic development) transparency.
RUTH ORKIN. Balloon, 1977.
Gelatin silver print.
FRANCO FONTANA. Landscape, 1975.
Color (chromogenic development) transparency.
Franco Fontana is an Italian
photographer born in Modena, Italy in 1933, best known for his
abstract colour landscapes. Fontana's photos have been used as album
cover art for records produced by the ECM jazz label.
He is known as the inventor of the
photographic line referred to as concept of line He began working as
an amateur photographer in 1961. His first personal exposition was
in 1968 in Modena. Since then he has participated in more than 400
expositions - collective and personal - and his work is bought in
approximately 60 museum collections all over the world. He has been
signed for numerous publicity campaigns, as FIAT, VOLKSWAGEN,
National Railways, VOLVO, VERSACE, CANON, KODAK, SNAM, STET,
MONDRIAN, J.WALKER, ALITALIA, SWISSAIR, LA RINASCENTE. He works with
TIME-LIFE, VOGUE USA, VOGUE FRANCE, VENDERDI DI REPUBBLICA,
PANORAMA, FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE, EPOCA and many more distinguished
publications. His work has been published in more than 40 books in
various editions in Italian, Japanese, French, German, Swiss,
English and Spanish. His numerous awards include the 1989 Tokyo
Photographer Society of Japan - The 150 Years of Photography -
JAN GROOVER. Untitled, 1979.
Type-C (chromogenic development) print. Blum Helrnan Gallery, New
WILLIAM EGGLESTON. Memphis, Tennessee, 1971.
Dye-transfer (dye-imbibition) print. Middendorf Gallery, Washington,
JOEL MEYEROWITZ. Porch, Prorincctown, 1977.
Ektacolor (chromogenic development) print.
MITCH EPSTEIN. Pushkar Camel Fair, Rajasthan, India, 1978.
Ektacolor (chromogenic development) print.
KISHIN SHINOYAMA. House, 1975.
Color (chromogenic development) transparency.
Kishin Shinoyama Shinoyama Kishin?,
b. Shinjuku, Tokyo, 3 December 1940) is a Japanese photographer.
Shinoyama graduated from Nihon
University. He worked with the Light Publicity agency while still a
student, and freelanced after graduation.
Shinoyama has put out a large number of books of photographs of
girls, dressed, mostly undressed, and nude.
He is married to Saori Minami and their son is actor Akinobu
RICHARD MISRACH. Flood, Snltou Sea, 1983.
Chromogenic dye-coupler print. Robert Mann Gallery, New York.
BARBARA NORFLEET. Catbird and Bedspring Debris, 1984.
Controlling the color gives the
photographer one more expressive tool in handling portraiture and
still life. The illustrative settings and highly saturated hues that
characterize Neal Slavin's group portraits of from two to two
thousand figures lend a sprightly note to works that parody both
commercial portraiture of the past and the fabrications of
television ads. In still lires by Marie Cosindas, the muted yet
harmonious colors are designed to enhance the unabashed romanticism
projected by the objects themselves—old lace, brocades, dolls,
flowers. Color and photographic manipulations work well together.
Indeed, whether color is achieved by using dye-color films and
prints; by employing such processes as Fresson (a complicated gum
process), gum bichromate, and cyanotype; by hand-tinting images; or
by selecting hues from among the millions available in computer
pro-grams, it usually heightens the aesthetic and affective impact
of these creations, as can be seen in a wide range of contemporary
examples. To cite only a few: Rosamond W. Purcell is among those who
combine color with montage to invent a personal iconography. The
sense of uneasiness evoked by her metamorphoses of animal and human
forms owes as much to the eerie colors as to the strange blending of
shapes. In Olivia Parker's still life, the addition of bright red
cords to the dull tones of the decaying pears affords an unsettling
contrast. By massaging the wet emulsion of Polaroid film, Lucas
Samaras creates lurid, dripping colors to accentuate his erotic
fantasies. The vibrant colors in Barbara Kasten's architectural and
nature scenes result from her adept use of tinted filters and gels
and manipulative processing techniques to transform mundane
structures into chromatic extravaganzas.
The revival of historical processes
has enabled some contemporary photographers to use color while
bypassing problems associated with dye-color materials.
Hand-tinting—whether subtle, as in the work of Christopher James,
who is restrained in his use of paint and toners applied to silver
prints, or strongly chromatic, as in images by Janice Mehlman that
maintain a tenuous balance between painting and photography—is one
method of transforming the mechanically produced photograph into a
unique object, of moving it from realism to art. Instead of using
photographic emulsions as a base, images can be projected onto
canvas, and bleaching agents, pastels, or tinting colors can be
used. Turn-of-the-century processes that provided the Pictorialists
of that time with a way to avoid "mechanicalization" have also been
revived. Fresson printing is preferred by the French photographer
Bernard Plossu and the American Sheila Metzner, while Betty Hahn and
Bea Nettles favor gum bichromate in combination with other
manipulations. In noting that "art is an attitude that produces an
object by using media," Joyce Neimanas asserts the right recognized
by all of these photographers to employ whatever means are
available, including color, to create imaginative works.
In the hands of creative
photographers, color can be romantically nuanced, bellicose, eerie,
chic, or sensuous, but rarely is it real looking. In fact, in the
past, photographs in color of real situations have added an aura of
ambiguity, triggering an element of distrust on the part of viewers,
perhaps because the saturated dyes of color film seem to have an
equivocal relationship to the harsher realities of social
conditions. Recent changes in taste, however, have made socially
oriented documentation and photojournalistic images in color more
Among the street photographers who
have used color film to encapsulate their perceptions of urban
social conditions are Bruce Davidson, Helen Levitt, Jerome Liebling,
and Danny Lyon. Levitt, one of the first to find color film
sympathetic to such endeavors, captured dissonances and harmonies,
contrasting the drabness of tenement backgrounds with the lively
colors of the clothing worn by her subjects. The hues in Davidson's
large-format subway pictures are sometimes lurid and sometimes
pretty, giving an edginess to the gestures and expressions of these
bored and discontented riders of New York's underground. (In his
later work in Central Park, Davidson returned to black and white,
preferring panoramic format, optic distortions, and blurry focus to
strident color as a way to suggest the meaning of the park for its
That color has become acceptable to
photographers who document social realities is in part due to the
greatly increased use of color images in picture journals. During
the 1950s, the dye-color films that had been perfected just before
the second World War made it possible for photojournalists to work
in color, while improved printing methods enabled the journals to
print their stories. This is not to suggest that magazines had not
printed photographs in color before this time. In fact, in the
1910s, some magazines, notably National Geographic, had regularly
featured color reproductions from Autochrome plates. In general,
though, color processes and the methods of making engraved or
lithographic color plates for periodicals were too time consuming
and expensive for popular journals. The color images taken by
several of the Farm Security Administration photographers, for
example, were not felt to be evocative enough, in contrast to their
work in black and white, to warrant the expense of reproducing them
in print media. In 1952, Life reproduced its first picture story in
color—a series of views of New York by Ernst Haas. A former painter,
Haas found color film to be an inspiring tool for "transforming an
object from what it is to what you want it to be."
During the 1970s and '80s, color film improved, and magazines were
even more willing to print in color, prompting greater numbers of
photo journalists to use this material to express a wide range of
perceptions about the actualities framed by their viewfinders. For
instance, color adds a realistic dimension to Larry Burrows's images
of Vietnam and augments the poignancy of Susan Meiselas's
photographs of the Sandinista uprising in Nicaragua. Maggie Steber
and Alex Webb are other photojournalists who have transformed war
report-age by using color. Color enhances the dissolute sensuality
of Miguel Rio Branco's story of the Maciel district in the Brazilian
city of Salvador. With the increased use of digital cameras for
recording events in the field, news documentation in color will
undoubtedly become even more common.
NEAL SLAVIN. National Cheerleaders Association, 1974.
Ektacolor (chromogenic development) print.
MARIE COSINDAS. Conger Metcalf Still Life, 1976.
Polaroid (internal dye-diffusion transfer) print. Courtesy the
ROSAMOND W. PURCELL. Untitled, c. 1978.
Polaroid (internal dye-diffusion transfer) print. Marcuse Pfeifer
Gallery, New York.
OLIVIA PARKER. Four Pears, 1979.
Polacolor (internal dye-diffusion transfer) print. Marcuse Pfcifcr
Gallery, New York.
LUCAS SAMARAS. March 19,1983, 1983.
Polaroid (internal dye-diffusion transfer) prints. PaceWildenstein
Gallery, New York.
BARBARA KASTEN. El Medol, Roman Quarry, Tarragona, Spain, 1992.
Digital photo painting on vinyl acrylic, back-lit.
JANICE MEHLMAN. Midnight Passage, 1993.
Hand-painted silver print. Private collection.
SUSAN MEISELAS. Nicaragua, 1978.
Color (chromogenic development) transparency.
MIGUEL RIO BRANCO. Prostitutes of Model, Salvador, Brazil, 1976.
Color (chromogenic development) transparency.
Photography and the New Printing
The conjoining of the photographic
image and mechanical printing processes was contemplated from the
medium's inception; with the development of photo-gravure,
Woodburytype, heliotype, and the process halftone plate, it became
an accomplished ract. The later addition of silkscreen and, more
recently, electronic reproduction methods, and the involvement since
the 1920s of photographers in advertising and journalism, have made
the reproduced photograph part of a vast network of utilitarian
images taken for granted in urban industrial societies. It also
should be recalled tliat printing photographs on materials other
than sensitized paper was a common practice during the latter part
of the 19th century, when camera images appeared on glass,
porcelain, tile, leather, and fabric.
Since the 1960s, attitudes about
printing have changed as photographers themselves have become
involved in actually using mechanical and electronic processes
rather than just allowing printing firms to effect such
transformations. The interest in "process as medium," has led to
images being printed on various unlikely materials and to procedures
that are not intrinsic to photography. Today, print media are valued
by creative photographers less as techniques to reproduce images
than as means to produce unique objects that depend for their
aesthetic interest primarily on the processes used. The new
attitudes toward mechanical and electronic printing can also be
viewed as an aspect of a new Pictorialism, in that the images are
meant neither as utilitarian objects—that is, advertising or
political posters—nor as windows into exterior or private realities,
but primarily as unique aesthetic artifacts.
In some cases, the authors of these
works also are making the point that valid camera expression need
not be limited to the modernist canon of straight silver images. One
example of this concept is Betty Hahn's work. This photographer
translates a camera negative into a gumbichromate positive on muslin
with embroidery added or uses cyanotype in conjunction with handwork
to suggest that mechanically produced images can be aesthetically
linked with age-old handcraft and, further, that photographers might
look to the history of their own medium for viable artistic
techniques beyond just silver printing.
The case with which established
mechanical printing processes can be manipulated is seen in work by
the many photographers who have explored etching, engraving,
lithography, and silkscreen. The capacity of photoetelling to retain
an aura of reality while avoiding verisimilitude has long been
recognized by both photographers and graphic artists. Naomi Savage,
who works with this technique, is interested in the changes in
coloration obtainable from printing intaglio plates in ink; she also
considers the metal plate on which the photograph has been etched to
be a relief image with an aesthetic character of its own. Starting
in the 1960s, Thomas Barrow, Scott Hyde, William Larsen, Joan Lyons,
Bea Nettles, Robert Rausch-enberg, Todd Walker, and Andy Warhol,
among numbers of other Americans, were involved with
photolithography and silkscreen—processes well suited to reproducing
straight photographs, collages, and montages on a variety of
materials. The resulting image can be additionally manipulated to
achieve unusual effects by folding, stitching, quilting, or shaping
it into irregular three-dimensional forms.
Barrow and Nettles employ fairly
direct methods of offset lithography and dichromate printing.
Rauschenberg at times combines this process with photosilkscreen,
adds pencil and brush marks, and laminates the results to handmade
papers-—in effect, merging procedures traditionally associated with
the fine and the mechanical arts. Using another approach, Benno
Friedman and Scott Hyde have transformed their photographs through
the application of mechanical printing techniques, which
paradoxically result in one-of-a-kind images. By using lithographic
processes and silkscreen, photographers also avoid the problems of
instability that have bedeviled dye-color films and prints.
Images produced with electronic
techniques—xerography, Kwikprinting, Verifaxing, and, eventually,
computer-generated laser printing—have become possible with more
modern replicative technologies. While the personal computer is the
most easily used, all of these methods have been more available to
photographers than offset lithography, in that they do not require
access to printing plants or to the etching and lithography presses
in artists' studios. Though no paint or ink obtruded on the surface,
the dot pattern of the older electronic copy prints, whether in
black and white or color, acted like the facture in painting,
introducing an element that proclaimed the distance between reality
and the image. More advanced electronic copying technology has
eradicated this characteristic so that laser-duplicated prints can
be indistinguishable from photographic silver prints.
BETTY HAHN. Road and Rainbow, 1971.
Gum bichromate on cotton with stitching.
NAOMI SAVAGE. Pressed Flower, 1969-80.
Photo/intaglio with pastel
THOMAS BARROW. Films, 1978.
Photolithographic print. Art Museum, University of New Mexico,
BEA NETTLES. Tomato Fantasy,1976.
Kwikprint. Internarnational Museum of Photography at George Eastman
House, Rochester, X.Y.
Photography's ability to document
events and to pro-mote the material goods of the industrial era has
been expedited by the perfection of special electronic cameras,
computers, scanners, and laser printers. By the end of the 1980s,
digital imaging had emerged as a transformative technology, welcomed
in the fields of product advertising, cinema, journalism, and the
medical and physical sciences. Moreover, the computer has attracted
artists who have recognized its worth as a storehouse of images;
almost any image, whether photographic or hand-drawn, in black and
white or in color, from virtually any public source, can be scanned,
digitally combined and recombined with itself and others, and
printed on papers or fabrics of various textures.
In advertising and filmmaking,
digital techniques have meant that elements from different times and
places can be put together and multiplied within a picture, that
irrelevant parts can be removed, that almost infinite numbers of
colors and shapes arc available and can be ordered and reordered.
This restructuring of reality takes place with greater speed than
the older methods of photographic special effects could ever make
possible. Feeding the public's constant hunger for novelty, both
advertising and cinema have promoted this improved method of
achieving special effects and have encountered little negative
reaction to it. The use of digital imagery in journalism, however,
has been more problematic because viewers expect news images to be
factual and unmanipulated. Of course, the idea that photographs of
newsworthy events have ever been purely objective has been
discredited by contemporary commentators, who have pointed out that
since the camera image translates a three-dimensional real world
into a two-dimensional arrangement of tonalities, its relationship
to reality is inevitably subject to interpretation and distortion.
Objectivity is undercut even more because photojournalists and
editors have particular points of view that govern their production
and use of camera images.
Digitizing is certainly not the
first technique used to falsity- news photographs. Back in 1871, for
example, a photograph purporting to show Communards killing
Dominican priests was later found to have been faked. However, in
the past, montaging and retouching were slow and expensive skills,
whereas the current ways of confounding truth by digital
manipulation are immeasurably more efficient and hence more
tempting. Immediately after digital imaging became possible,
reputable journals such as National Geographic discovered the ease
of being able to reposition elements within a photograph; in a 1982
cover picture of the pyramids of Giza, one was moved closer to
another simply to lit a vertical rather than a horizontal format.
Fiddling with images can have more serious consequences, as attested
by the outcry that greeted the digital darkening of black football
celebrity and murder suspect O. J. Simpson on a 1994 Time magazine
cover. Tabloid magazines routinely append heads to bodies not their
own or add figures and objects to make their pictures more enticing.
For those critics who believe that journalism is rarely truthful
anyway, the digital altering of news images poses little increased
threat, but others recognize that the fictions made possible through
this technology will require ever more sophisticated scrutiny by
viewers determined to distinguish falsehood from truth in the news.
Artist-photographers have found the
expressive possibilities (as opposed to its commercial applications)
of digital imaging appealing because it facilitates an array of
manipulations. Montage, which has long been favored by camera
artists, is accomplished more easily with a computer, which may have
in its memory many choices of imagery and which affords great
flexibility in dealing with tonality, color, and sharpness. In A
Thousand Centuries, Esther Parada created a montage to present an
alternative view of American history, using scanned and digitally
produced images and inkjet printing. Consisting of large panels and
site-specific installations, this and similar works by Parada
combine portraits with other visual and written documents to
challenge commonly held perceptions about historical events in the
United States and abroad. Others who use computerized montage to
comment on political and cultural matters include the British
photographer Roshini Kcmpadoo and the Japanese-American photographer
Osamu James Nakagawa. Kempadoo combines representations of foreign
currency and everyday social life to deplore the role of foreign
investors in underdeveloped regions. Nakagawa subverts one's view of
ordinary rural or urban scenes by inserting into them temporally
unrelated images of events or objects—a Ku Klux Klan meeting or the
McDonald's logo, for example.
The synthetic reality created by
special software pro-grams enables Suzanne Bloom and Ed Hill
(collaborators who call themselves Manual) to address ecological
issues. Their three-dimensional installations of large-scale,
digitally produced works combine photographic images of nature with
geometric forms suggestive of technology's intrusion into Eden.
Others use the new techniques to make visible less-political
agendas. The gestures and expressions of family members, as caught
in old snapshots, are reassembled and placed in fabricated
landscapes by Martina Lopez to create a dreamlike personal history.
Nancy Burson (working at times with David Kramlieh) generates facial
images of nonexistent individuals by scan-ning several photographic
portraits and combining their individual features into one face. For
some of her images she has merged portraits of children with
craniofacial problems; in another, she combined a human face with
the eyes of a doll in order to demonstrate that the unexpected
connection of real and unreal can be whimsical in effect.
Whether pictures that are digitally
produced by scanning camera images into a computer should actually
be called photographs remains an open question. Digital methods arc
conceptually closer to creating a painting or a work of graphic art
than to the conventional idea of taking a photograph. In dealing
with representations of visible reality, painters have traditionally
reorganized the scene and restructured elements of color and design
to accord with their individual sensibilities and tastes. They are
free to transform the image as they work to resolve coloristic,
expressive, and spatial problems. The photo-graph is a frozen entity
once it has been captured on film; to change the image substantially
requires the same kind of manipulations associated with the graphic
arts. Even handmade collages and darkroom montages ultimately become
fixed entities, whereas digitally generated imagery is constantly
mutable. Digital colors and forms can be shifted without limit to
form new configurations; even after being printed they still exist
in the computer as manipulable electronic impulses rather than as a
Because anything that is scannable
can be used to produce digital images, because potential material
can be found almost anywhere, because that material can consist of
original or reproduced photographs or works of graphic art obtained
(and potentially reused without permission) from image banks through
on-line services, digital imaging prompts concern about plagiarism
and copyright protection. These issues, as well as the unreliable
truthful-ness of seemingly authentic photographic representations,
remain to be resolved. Whether digital images printed by laser beam
will prove to be permanent or in need of special conservation
methods is another issue requiring investigation.
Only the passage of time will
reveal which digital productions are of lasting value and which are
ephemeral. Over the past one hundred or so years the
camera-generated image has assumed unparalleled importance—showing
us, for example, both the grandeur and degradation of our land and
the demeanor of our elected representatives. Photographs have
influenced our tastes in food, clothing, decor, and celebrities.
Digital technology seems unlikely to entirely replace traditional
photography in the immediate future, although it will take over many
of its tasks as filmless cameras and computer technologies become
less expensive. Individual artists may still be engaged by the
particularity of camera vision and by the silver- or platinum-based
end product (even though thie materials needed for these already
have become more difficult to find). Despite dire prophesies,
painting did not "die" when many of its functions were taken over by
the camera after 1839. It did, however, change forms and shed some
functions, and photography may now go through a similar
transformation. Indeed, relieving the medium of its commercial and
decorative applications may eventually prove to be a boon rather
than a misfortune.
ESTHER PARADA. A Thousand Centuries, 1992.
Inkjet print from digital image generated on a Macintosh computer,
panel three of a three-panel installation.
MARTINA LOPEZ. Revolutions in Time, I, 1994.
Cibachrome print. Schneider Gallery, Chicago.
NANCY BURSON. Untitled, 1988.
Digitally produced from a gelatin silver negative shot from the
Painting and Photography
Soon after it was invented,
photography helped artists by making factual information available;
before long, it was transforming the way artists treated the
organization of form and space. In the 19th century, photographs
made in the street with short-focal-length lenses revealed real life
to be casually cluttered rather than hieratically composed of
discrete elements. When the rectangular frame of the photographic
plate sliced through figures, structures, and events, with little
respect for the tidiness of classical composition, artists became
aware of new ways to depict the life around them. Employing
strategies that gave their work a naturalistic vivacity, they
represented scenes from unusual angles, included portions of figures
cut off by the edge of the canvas or paper, or reproduced events as
though the participants had been surprised in the midst of activity.
They also depicted objects and figures with less attention to their
three-dimensionality, at times flattening and compressing them into
shallow pictorial space. Like the Japanese woodblock prints that
arrived in Europe starting in the 1860s, photographs exerted a
telling influence on Realist and Impressionist painters.
During the early part of the 20th
century, this cordial if not readily acknowledged relationship
between photography and painting continued and actually became more
intimate in some respects. Although some artists still adamantly
denied the aesthetic potential of photography, American painters as
precise in style as Charles Sheeler and as tonalistically oriented
as Edward Steichcn worked in both media with equal sensitivity;
ironically, the former eventually elevated painting, and the latter,
photography, to a favored position. In Europe during the 1910s and
'20s, Dadaists, Futurists, and Constructivists went even further,
transforming scientific photographs such as the stop-motion studies
by Etienne Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge into images expressive
of the tempo and energy of modern life. Some artists combined
graphic and photographic material in the same works and called for
an end to art terminology and concepts based on traditional
divisions among media.
Photography and painting assumed
more distinctive identities during the mid-century flowering of
Regionalism, Social Realism, and, later, Abstract Expressionism, but
in the 1960s, the cross-fertilization resumed. As the most
ubiquitous emblem of mass culture, photographs were embraced by
those intent on repudiating the elite character of Abstract
Expressionism, and so they found an obvious place in Pop art. To
cite only a few examples, Larry Rivers and Robert Rauschenberg—the
latter a photographer of sensitivity as well as a painter—employed
silkscreen techniques and incorporated snapshots and news photos
along with an array of junk materials to suggest the gritty texture
of contemporary urban life. James Rosenquist and Andy Warhol in the
United States and Richard Hamilton in England were among those who
mined (and mimed) billboard and other photographic advertising
imagery—in particular, publicity posters for mass-entertainment
celebrities. The mixing of media has been exemplified more recently
by Doug and Mike Starn's assemblages, which encompass camera images,
reproductions of art, musical scores, and written texts embedded in
blocks or sheets of acrylic. Usually of considerable size, many of
these works deal with mass-produced goods—wearable, edible, and
cultural—which not only exist in great quantities but have had their
images widely replicated in the popular media.
Camera images have also been
regarded by painters as found objects, to be assembled as testaments
to individual taste or to a sense of irony—contemporary analogs of
Marcel Duchamp's "Readymades." Photographs have sup-plied John
Baldessari (pi. no. 804) in the United States and Joseph Beuys in
Germany with the means to investigate the meaning of art itself. The
sometimes banal, sometimes bizarre conjunctions of objects and
events in Baldessari's work attest to his interest in the photograph
not as an aesthetic or descriptive object but as a means of
exploring art as "the product of a process of selection."
Artists wishing to avoid the
convention of representing a single point of view and a single
moment in time also have turned to photography. David Hockney makes
use of an array of small rectangular color prints, taken over a
period of time and from different vantage points, to create a large
work that repudiates the frozen moment characteristic of
conventional paintings (and photographs). In
Self-Portrait/Composite, Nine Parts, the disruptive joins of the
color prints allow Chuck Close to avoid the illusionism
characteristic of the photograph while still exploiting its ability
to capture detailed facial expression. Rather than just using
photographs to represent reality, these artists have employed them
to transform their work into statements about the making of art.
Almost in tandem with Pop art,
sharp-focus realism— sometimes called Photorealism—emerged as a
distinctive style in American painting in the late 1960s. A sort of
Precisionism revisited, it too derived its energizing ideas from the
consumer goods and built environments so prominently featured in
advertising. Photorealist painters, like their Precisionist
forerunners in the 1920s (and in common with many photographers),
usually are more interested in the abstract appearance of reality
than in "realism" itself, finding the formal configurations of
actuality "far more exciting than most abstract painting." The quest
for the meticulous representation of the real world—in particular,
the machine-made portion of reality—prompted this generation of
painters to look to the camera for aid in translating
three-dimensional space onto a flat surface. Indeed, many painters
employed projection techniques that had been perfected earlier as
methods for advertising illustration.
In Photorealist painting, the
photograph is more than just a preparatory device or an aid to
verisimilitude. Photographs help the painter objectify the subject,
theoretically bypassing choice and subjective feelings and
substituting a neutral facture for the artist's hand. These
paintings mimic the visual appearance of photographs, portraying
space in the specific manner of certain lens capabilities or from a
vantage point peculiar to camera images. Synthesized at times from a
number of camera images, as in the work of Richard Estes, such
paintings paraphrase the high-gloss surface emulsions and dye-color
properties of color photographs.
At the opposite end of the
ideological spectrum, photographs also played a role in Conceptual
art, which rose to prominence in the late 1960s, even though a
connection between these least and most abstract visual forms seems
curious. But, as Sol LeWitt noted, "Ideas [in art] ... are the chain
in the development that may eventually find some form," and the
photograph has become one of these forms. LeWitt's series of
photographs of metal manhole covers and ventilator grids are emblems
of the artist's desire to reveal underlying structures and systems
rather than to create works with aesthetic, personal, or social
con-tent. Photographs also play a role in productions that were
meant to be created and then destroyed—Yves Klein's body art, Robert
Smithson's earthworks, Christo's wrappings. Widiout the photographic
records, these efforts would have no permanent form; indeed, one
doubts that they would ever have been conceived if they could not
have been photographed.
In sum, as difficult as it would be
to imagine contemporary photography without taking into account
developments in the graphic arts, it is even less possible to
visualize contemporary art without its alter ego, the photograph.
This affiliation is recognized in the marketplace by galleries that
now handle photography, painting, and mixed-media creations as
As the foregoing discussion has
indicated, photography's potential has expanded radically in the
past several decades. Besides the traditional two-dimensional,
modest-sized photograph in shades of black and white—more often than
not dealing with some facet of reality—the medium now embraces
images in a variety of shapes, colors, and formats, variously
intended to provide information, sell ideas or products, move people
emotionally, make formal statements, and analyze political and
cultural events. New technologies, new aesthetic theories, in
concert with the enhanced role of the photograph as a marketable
commodity, have influenced the way the medium is now being used and
perceived. To show that the current expanded state of the medium is
the result of a rich history in which photography flourished all the
more for being so closely related to developments in technology, in
the arts, and in the social sphere has been the purpose of this
ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG. Kiesler, 1966.
Offset lithograph. Museum of Modern Art, New York; John B. Turner
ANDY WARHOL. Red Elvis, 1962.
Acrylic and silkscreen on linen. Galerie Bruno Bischofberger,
JOHN BALDESSARI. Chimpanzees and Man with Arms in Arc, 1984.
Two gelatin silver prints. Courtesy Sonnabend Gallery, New York.
DAVID HOCKNEY. Christopher Isherwood Talking to Bob Holman, Santa
Monica, March 14,1983, 1983.
Collage of 98 Ektachrome prints. John and Mable Ringling Museum of
Art, Sarasota, Fla.
CHUCK CLOSE. Self-Poitrait/Composite, Nine Parts, 1979.
Polaroid photographs. Courtesy PaceWildenstein Gallery, New York.
RICHARD ESTES. Central Savings, 1975.
Oil on canvas. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Mo.
Courtesy Allan Stone Gallery, New York.