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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Dear Janine - this may be a bit off topic (!) but one of the important moments in the history of colour photography was Agfa's introduction of Agfacolor Neu in October 1936. This new colour process meant that for the first time photographers could process their own colour films without difficulty (unlike the tricky lab-based Kodak versions). A German photographer I have just curated an exhibition on, Erich Retzlaff (1899-1993), was one of the first German photographers to officially test the new Agfa colour films. Along with some of his contemporaries, Retzlaff's work was reproduced in a special edition, Agfacolor, das farbige Lichtbild  [Agfacolor, the colour photograph] in 1938. Of course Retzlaff was a successful photographer under the Nazis (and colour was enthusiastically embraced in propaganda images). I produced a catalogue with (amongst other essays and images) a set of Retzlaff's colour images and his own writings about colour translated - you can see a free online version of the catalogue here:

Best wishes,

Chris Webster vT

sorry - I should also say that Retzlaff's archive of negatives and colour slides was destroyed in an allied bombing raid on Berlin in 1944. His colour work now mostly exists in period publications (like the one mentioned in my earlier post). However, I've managed to bring together a large collection of his vintage photographs into our university art collection (thanks to generous donations from his family and a grant from the ArtFund and V&A) this includes 2 examples of his period colour photography (now extremely rare).



I feel most of the threads might be missing the point of your question, i.e. an equivalent to Eggleston's exhibition. This exhibition has been misread and misquoted for nearly 50 years now. The fact that you are looking for an equivalent makes the point that this was pivotal; not for invention, use of colour, or many other reasons except that it opened the doors to institutions such as MOMA (how long did it take for the Tate to even show, let alone collect photography?) for photographers to show work in colour in such places, and more importantly to sell to collectors.

Many photographers who are now seen as hugely influential on documentary photography were already shooting at least partly in colour - Winogrand, Meyerowitz, Sternfeld, Ray-Jones, Shore etc etc. What was special about Eggleston's show was that his film and prints were (semi-) permanent, or at least far more permanent than the commercial colour photography that many worked in to pay the bills, whilst doing the 'real' photography in black and white.

Galleries didn't want art that faded and couldn't sell it - a big factor in US gallery culture. What it did do was to change the possibilities for all photographers to consider colour as a medium for their 'serious' photography. Clearly Szarkowski saw something more than just permanence in Eggleston's work, otherwise we would't be debating it now. It was roundly criticized at the time by the establishment, but was in a similar mindset (new perspectives on the ordinary and everyday) as the New Topographics exhibition and book of the previous year, so it wasn't so groundbreaking in content or intent.

Looking at technological process or arguing about the worth of it now is pointless as the fact that it was pivotal is now history and cannot be altered by re-writing history or by quoting Ansel Adams. and no, it wasn't the first colour exhibition at MOMA NY either - Eliot Porter's birds of '43, the exhibition "Color Photography' of 1950, Ernst Haas 1962,Helen Levitt 1974, and I'm sure a female photographer showed large format Polaroids around 75 too.. Many of the myths surrounding that exhibition are just that, but it was certainly pivotal, for whatever reason and the question is do we have an equivalent in the UK?

I'm tempted to state the (probably too obvious) The last Resort by Martin Parr, as that was the book that switched me from monochrome to colour, but I'm sure there must have been something earlier. Paul Reas says he turned to colour after seeing a lecture by Sally Eauclaire (Editor of The New Color Photography) in '86.

Who really fired the collective imagination of a generation and set photographers off towards the camera shop to ask for some colour film?

Thank you for the detailed and informative replies. I knew when I asked the question that there would be an amazing variance in the responses and all are a real help. Will definitely feedback more later.

Thank you

 Before Eggleston there was Ernst Haas, whose color essay Magic City of New York ran for 24 pages in LIFE  magazine in the fall of 1953, the first of several such stories and who had a 10 year color  retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in

1962 under John Szarkowski. I am not aware of any such color innovations in the UK or Europe, or indeed anywhere else.

At the time LIFE  magazine had foreign editions so that work and the following essays on Paris, Venice, Bullifight and Motion were also seen in Europe and the Far East.   I was at Magnum New York from 1950 to 1970 and as Director for Special Projects working with Moma.  Haas' work was also circulated in Europe by Kodak.  Inge Bondi

Susan Kismaric: British Photography from the Thatcher Years at MoMA NYC might be of interest here...

1976? I dont think so...

Thank you for the suggestion.

Still a work in progress...

One of the best discussions on the success and failures of colour photography (and the sustained resistance to its use) can be found in Max Kozloff, 'Photography and Fascination'. I think the essay in question is entitled, 'The Coming of Age of Colour'.

I  agree, an excellent essay- good to be reminded of it  - thank you

The two books by Sally Eauclaire were a great influence on photographers (and teachers) in the UK, I think.

Regards, Brian

Sorry Janine, your date for William Eggleston's Guide was correct. I had confused this with another, later publication.

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