A colour vision – Colour and Modernity

Yet again we are reminded of Eggleston’s contribution to the history of colour photography the importance of the patronage of John Szarkowski and the influence of the Museum of Modern Art.

I covered the work of Eggleston in my post  regarding a talk I attended. I am always amazed that other ‘colourists’ don’t get any recognition, those such as Joel Meyeorwitz, who began photographing in colour in 1962 during a time when there was significant resistance to the idea of colour photography as serious art. In the early 1970’s he taught the first colour course at the Cooper Union in New York City. Joel Sternfeld  began taking color photographs in 1970 and visited Eggleston in 1974, and Saul Leiter who started taking colour photographs in 1948.

Why Eggleston was plucked to represent the way forward only Szarkowski would be able to say. Why his images were chosen above all others I don’t know. As previously mentioned it could be the intensity of his colours or the banality of the subjects that drew the eye. Meyeorwitz was still very much ‘street’ and Leiter very painterly.

On reading the press release you have to accept that it was written to attract an audience and you need to read between the publicity ‘blurb.’ Was he one of the most accomplished photographer working in colour at the time?  I don’t think so. He was tremendously influential after this exhibition, is mentioned as part of a ‘new generation’ but no other names are given. Once Szarkowski had chosen to exhibit the work, once again his publicity machine went into overdrive, producing William Eggleston’s Guide and heaping plenty of praise and superlatives upon the work, to counter the poor press reviews… again the phrase ‘swooning aestheticism’ springs to mind. No publicity is bad publicity and much debate was given to this body of work thrusting it into the public eye. Eventually opposition was overcome and colour was established as a legitimate photographic medium for documentary, although there are those who will still argue that it is within art genre as it chronicled American life during this era. This body of work reveals a shift of images from the public sphere to the personal sphere which regenerated an interest in documentary photography as art – Bate – to properly reference…..


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