British photographic history

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I am researching colour photography and would appreciate feedback

John Szarkowski's curation of William Eggleston's Guide at MOMA in 1976, was a pivotal moment in the history of colour photography in America. What might be considered an equivalent moment in the history of colour photography in Britain?

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I wonder if there was something equivalent in the UK, in the sense of something so pivotal... Some of the Kodak Ltd, Kingsway, exhibitions in the 1960s and 70s were showcases for colour work. Were things more incremental in the UK?  There is material relating to the Kodak shows in the Kodak Historical Collection at the British Library. 

Thank you for the heads up, I will follow that up. 

My grandfather, Dr S.D.Jouhar, was among the first UK amateurs to use the Kodacolor process - this had been introduced to the American market in 1942 but had not become available in Great Britain until 1958. By the end of 1959 he had more or less perfected his use of this new (to him) medium and he gave, on December 4th 1959 a talk titled 'A Pictorial Approach to Kodacolor' to a meeting of the Colour Group of the RPS (The Photographic Journal, 100, 119-122, 1960).

He also went to various places in the UK, on behalf of Kodak, giving a lecture entitled "Aestheticsof Colour" which was illustrated by many of the slides that he had taken. I have a lot of the slides, and his lecture notes. Contact me if you would like more information.

Regards

Kelvin

I will certainly look up his talk thank you very much for responding. It has confirmed and certainly added much more detail to my time line.

Thank you

Regards,

Janine

Janine,

I take a somewhat different view on the Eggleston exhibition.
At least part of the reason why the Eggleston exhibition is seen as being so "pivotal" for color photography in America, is the acute amnesia of that many photo historians labor under as well as the dual cult of worship of both Szarkowski and Eggleston.

As to the first point, (don't have time or inclination to discuss the Szarkowski/Eggleston cult) it is well past the point of conventional wisdom, and has reached the realm of the sacrosanct, that the first art exhibition in color was John Szarkowski's curation of William Eggleston's Guide at MOMA in 1976. The problem here is that it just isn't true. Even if we allow the amnesia to flourish regarding Steiglitz's 1907 autochrome at 291, and all subsequent American autochrome exhibitions, one still has to account for the 342-print "All Color Photography" exhibition curated by Steichen in 1950 as well as the 1962 exhibition, Ernst Haas Color Photography, which also was held at MoMA in New York. As much as anything, Szarkowski's Eggleston exhibition could well be seen not only as an attempt to bring Eggleston's color work to the fore, but as an effort to bury Steichen's vision once and for all.

In my opinion, one reason why there was no single "pivotal" moment in the history of color photography in Britain is that, unlike in the US, color photography was already integrated in the photo/art scene and had been since the inception of the autochrome right through the various color processes. The difference wasn't the lack of a British Szarkowski but the lack of a British Stiegltiz who, for reasons which still aren't entirely clear, decided that color photography couldn't be art. Vive la difference!

At any rate, if I were to pick two moments in British color photography, I'd go with the 1908 Marcel Meys exhibition and the 1931 RPS exhibition "Colour Photography in the Service of Mankind". The Meys autochrome exhibition showed what was possible while the 1931 displayed what had been accomplished and pointed toward the furture.

Mark

Mark,

I appreciate your in-depth perspective.

I felt the precursor to Mey's 1908 exhibition by the Society of Colour Photographers at the end 1906 which included a range of processes. Do you think Mey's Autochrome Exhibition is a more significant starting point for the acceptance of colour photography in exhibitions because of Mey's skill and it being in Autochrome?

The 1931 RPS exhibition "Colour Photography in the Service of Mankind" really under scores the greater level of readiness for creative colour photography in more scientific and commercial applications, but I still feel the artistic status for colour photography remained tenuous. I will certainly address it a significant marker of progress and potential.

I would value further discussion if you have time,

thank you,

Janine



Mark Jacobs said:

Janine,

I take a somewhat different view on the Eggleston exhibition.
At least part of the reason why the Eggleston exhibition is seen as being so "pivotal" for color photography in America, is the acute amnesia of that many photo historians labor under as well as the dual cult of worship of both Szarkowski and Eggleston.

As to the first point, (don't have time or inclination to discuss the Szarkowski/Eggleston cult) it is well past the point of conventional wisdom, and has reached the realm of the sacrosanct, that the first art exhibition in color was John Szarkowski's curation of William Eggleston's Guide at MOMA in 1976. The problem here is that it just isn't true. Even if we allow the amnesia to flourish regarding Steiglitz's 1907 autochrome at 291, and all subsequent American autochrome exhibitions, one still has to account for the 342-print "All Color Photography" exhibition curated by Steichen in 1950 as well as the 1962 exhibition, Ernst Haas Color Photography, which also was held at MoMA in New York. As much as anything, Szarkowski's Eggleston exhibition could well be seen not only as an attempt to bring Eggleston's color work to the fore, but as an effort to bury Steichen's vision once and for all.

In my opinion, one reason why there was no single "pivotal" moment in the history of color photography in Britain is that, unlike in the US, color photography was already integrated in the photo/art scene and had been since the inception of the autochrome right through the various color processes. The difference wasn't the lack of a British Szarkowski but the lack of a British Stiegltiz who, for reasons which still aren't entirely clear, decided that color photography couldn't be art. Vive la difference!

At any rate, if I were to pick two moments in British color photography, I'd go with the 1908 Marcel Meys exhibition and the 1931 RPS exhibition "Colour Photography in the Service of Mankind". The Meys autochrome exhibition showed what was possible while the 1931 displayed what had been accomplished and pointed toward the furture.

Mark


Thank you, Jeff.


Jeff Guo said:

I think Felice Beato who is British photographer pioneered the techniques of hand-coloring photographs.

Thank you for the reference, its very useful.

I would be very interested in learning more 

Janine

Kelvin Jouhar said:

My grandfather, Dr S.D.Jouhar, was among the first UK amateurs to use the Kodacolor process - this had been introduced to the American market in 1942 but had not become available in Great Britain until 1958. By the end of 1959 he had more or less perfected his use of this new (to him) medium and he gave, on December 4th 1959 a talk titled 'A Pictorial Approach to Kodacolor' to a meeting of the Colour Group of the RPS (The Photographic Journal, 100, 119-122, 1960).

He also went to various places in the UK, on behalf of Kodak, giving a lecture entitled "Aestheticsof Colour" which was illustrated by many of the slides that he had taken. I have a lot of the slides, and his lecture notes. Contact me if you would like more information.

Regards

Kelvin

Please allow me to give you one further piece of information, which is probably not “pivotal”, but may be of interest.  The Tyng Collection of “outstanding pictorial photography” is owned by the RPS and was started in 1927 by the American philanthropist, and RPS member, Stephen Tyng.  I respect Mark Jacobs opinion about the 1931 RPS exhibition, “Colour Photography in the Service of Mankind”, but if it was a “moment” in British colour photography, why was it that no colour photographs were accepted by the RPS into the Tyng collection for almost 30 years after that 1931 RPS exhibition ?

 

It was not until 1960 that Dr S.D.Jouhar’s print called  “Madrasi Fishermen”  was the first colour print to be accepted into the Tyng Collection.

 

Kelvin

Dear Kelvin, 

I take your point and will certainly follow up with more research. RPS archives shows that the society was definitely collecting colour and coloured photography whilst John Dudley Johnston was custodian of the collection from 1924-1955. The 1931 RPS exhibition, “Colour Photography in the Service of Mankind” was considered to relate to the more scientific and commercial applications of photography for which colour photography was recognised. It is evident that there were long running challenges to the artistic potential of colour photography, which is what triggered my initial question.

Maybe Mark's point is that the 'moment' in British Colour Photography was about its attributes that were other than artistic?

Janine

Hi Janine

Firstly who said “Eggleston’s Guide” held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art was pivotal? In 1976 Ansel Adams, the most famous photographer of his day, wrote Szarkowski a candidly critical two-page letter, excerpted here for the first time, wherein he called Eggleston “a put on.”“I find little ‘substance,” Adams continued. “For me, [Eggleston’s photographs] appear to be ‘observations,’ floating on the sea of his consciousness… For me, most draw a blank.”

http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2008/12/democratic-camera

Looking at Eggleston’s images today I would agree with Mr Adams. They look like a typical bunch of rejects from an average photographer operating in any period not just the 1970’s!

Personally I would put forward Ernst Haas’ work in colour as being pivotal:

“Ernst Haas moved to the United States in 1951 and soon after, began experimenting with Kodachrome color film. He went on to become the premier color photographer of the 1950s. In 1953 Life magazine published his groundbreaking 24-page color photo essay on New York City. This was the first time such a large color photo feature was published by Life. In 1962 a retrospective of his work was the first color photography exhibition held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.”

http://www.ernst-haas.com/biography.html

“In 1957 LIFE publishes Haas’ “Beauty in the Brutal Art,” photographs of the bullfight in Spain. Marks the beginning of his motion studies and the first time this type of color photography is published. Serves as Member of the Executive Committee at Magnum. Then in 1977 Eastman Kodak Company produces an 18x60 feet print of Haas’ “Impalas Grazing” at Grand Central Station in New York. Until then, the largest color print ever produced.”

http://www.brucesilverstein.com/documents/489364b15abdd.pdf

Chris

Hello there,

As a fellow researcher on color photography, I celebrate all efforts to understand color. Thank you all for all your insights

While my focus is on Gisèle Freund's work, I'm also interested in modernism and the presence of color in the UK, in particular, Mme Yevonde and the Vivex process in the 1930's .

I can also  recommend Lisa Hostetler's excellent "Color Rush: American Color Photography from Stieglitz to Sherman".

Color is indeed far from historicized, it is our task to do so in a global dimension. As for the "pivotal moment", it is indeed a construction.

Janine, I'd be extremely interested to be in touch with you, if you'd like, do write to me at clara.masnatta@post.harvard.edu

All best,

Clara

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