NOVEMBER 14TH – DECEMBER 12TH, 2020

Michael Eastman, Garry Fabian Miller, and Stephen Wilkes

In 1950, the pioneering photographer Edward Steichen, then director of the Museum of Modern Art’s Department of photography, organized the first exhibition to present color photography. Of the novel use of color within the photographic medium, Steichen said:

“Is it a new medium for the artist or is it a means of supplementing or elaborating the recognized attainments of black and white photography?… This exhibition asks more questions than it answers, for in spite of fine individual attainments and rich promise, color photography as a medium for the artist is still something of a riddle.”

How has the development of photography as a form of expression changed since Steichen implicitly asked the question over 50 years ago? From autochromes, dye transfer, Ektachrome, and Kodachrome film, with the technological evolution of photography, color became an indispensable and predominant feature for the medium, revolutionizing and expanding its expressive potential. The photographers included in this exhibition create their own unique color palettes using light to present their bold and modern aesthetic visions.

In 1950, the pioneering photographer Edward Steichen, then director of the Museum of Modern Art’s Department of photography, organized the first exhibition to present color photography. Of the novel use of color within the photographic medium, Steichen said:

“Is it a new medium for the artist or is it a means of supplementing or elaborating the recognized attainments of black and white photography?… This exhibition asks more questions than it answers, for in spite of fine individual attainments and rich promise, color photography as a medium for the artist is still something of a riddle.”

How has the development of photography as a form of expression changed since Steichen implicitly asked the question over 50 years ago? From autochromes, dye transfer, Ektachrome, and Kodachrome film, with the technological evolution of photography, color became an indispensable and predominant feature for the medium, revolutionizing and expanding its expressive potential. The photographers included in this exhibition create their own unique color palettes using light to present their bold and modern aesthetic visions.

Although becoming popular with the advertising, film, and magazine industries since the 1930s, color photography was initially noted for its commercial use and not for its capacity as fine art. Color photography was rejected by photographers who preferred exploring the “pure” formal components of a photograph, such as line and form. Iconic photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, and Ansel Adams dismissed color. They regarded color as a feature too complicated and distracting compared to the formal tonal sensibilities of black and white photography that developed in the first half of the century.

After the World Wars and with the advent of modernist aesthetics arriving in the US from Europe, as well as the introduction of new and easier to use color processes, color photography began to surge in its use as the new visual language. Color expanded the possibilities for art photography. Thus, our notion of collectible photography grew to acknowledge photographers who used color. Ultimately, color photography represented a modern world because it more closely approximated the way the eye sees the world and is less abstract than black and white. Today, color in the 21st century has become the most prevalent part of the fine art photography market. For the photographers in this exhibition, the role of color in a photograph has a critical function. Whether it is used as a subject or as a component of a larger composition, color is a central tenet in creating a photograph.

For photographers like Garry Fabian Miller, the deep and humming yellow tones in the image can meet the bright, lustrous center mimicking the effects of a blinding sun. Garry Fabian Miller physically curates his images through a direct transmission of light over carefully measured time, passing through color directly onto the film stock. The exposed film is processed, and it becomes the final photograph. Fabian Miller’s multiple exposures suggest the aura of ancestral and mythical landscapes with their evocative richness. His pictures respond to the world he sees and meditates on, but his impressions are abstracted to fields of color.

Michael Eastman has spent five decades documenting alluring interiors and facades in cities as diverse as Havana, Paris, Rome, and New Orleans. Eastman produces large-scale photographs unified by their visual precision, monumentality, and potent use of color, creating records of spaces and surfaces transformed by time and use. These photographs leave impressions that linger in the mind. Eastman captures an elusive human presence within interior and exterior spaces through compelling colors and a dramatic subject matter.

American photographer Stephen Wilkes creates epic cityscapes and landscapes, which capture fleeting moments of humanity as light passes in front of his lens over the course of a full day. Wilkes later painstakingly and slowly blends these images into a single photograph for his iconic series, Day to Night. Through composite photographs, Stephen Wilkes’s innovative spirit transcends the traditional momentary notion of photography, creating a path showing the full spectrum of color, from day to night. Wilkes lists painters such as Bierstadt and the French impressionists as his source of influence for his photographs’ rich colors.

As photography has developed in the last 20 years into a major force in the art market, pictures have become larger and more ambitious. They involve even greater complexity because of the sophisticated techniques that recent technological developments in imaging and printing have allowed. Color has become an ever more critical element in the expressive and descriptive power of photography. Although color is seldomly an end by itself, it functions as the lifeblood of an image, bringing its potential to fruition.