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Amon Carter Museum of American Art Opens Transformative Color Photography Exhibition

The Amon Carter Museum of American Art presents Color! American Photography Transformed a compelling examination of how color has changed the very nature of photography, transforming it into today’s dominant artistic medium. On view October 5 through January 5, 2014. Admission is free.

Gregory Crewdson (b.1962)  Untitled (Dylan on the Floor) from Twilight Series, 1998–2002  Dye coupler print © Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery
Gregory Crewdson (b.1962) Untitled (Dylan on the Floor) from Twilight Series, 1998–2002 Dye coupler print © Gregory Crewdson, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

The exhibition covers the full history of photography, from 1839, when Frenchman Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851) introduced his daguerreotype process, to the present. From the start, disappointed that photographs could only be made in black and white, photographers and scientists alike sought with great energy to achieve color. Color! begins with a rare direct-color photograph made in 1851 by Levi L. Hill (1816–1865), but explains how Hill could neither capture a full range of color nor replicate his achievement. It then shows finely rendered hand-colored photographs to share how photographers initially compensated for the lack of color.

When producing color photographs became commercially feasible in 1907 in the form of the glass-plate Autochrome, leading artists like Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946) were initially overjoyed, according to Rohrbach. Color! offers exquisite examples of their work even as it explains their ultimate rejection of the process because it was too difficult to display and especially because they felt it mirrored human sight too closely to be truly creative.

Only in 1976, when curator John Szarkowski at the Museum of Modern Art in New York heralded the young Memphis photographer William Eggleston’s (b. 1939) snapshot-like color photographs as the solution to artful color, did fine art color photography gain full acceptance.

Color! illustrates through landmark works by Jan Groover (1943–2012), Joel Meyerowitz (b. 1938) and others the blossoming of artists’ use of color photography that followed in the wake of Szarkowski’s celebration of Eggleston. It also reveals artists’ gradual absorption of the notion that color could be used flexibly to critique cultural mores and to shape stories. In this new color world, recording the look of things was important, but it was less important than conveying a message about life. In this important shift, led by artists as diverse as Andres Serrano (b. 1950) and Laurie Simmons (b. 1949), the exhibition explains, photography aligned itself far more closely with painting.

Color! shows how the rise of digital technologies furthered this transformation, as photographers such as Gregory Crewdson (b. 1962), Richard Misrach (b. 1949) and Alex Prager (b. 1979) have explicitly embraced the hues, scale, and even subjects of painting and cinema.

The exhibition will include an interactive photography timeline enabling visitors to contribute to the visual dialogue by sharing their own color images. The photographs will be displayed along the timeline and on digital screens in the museum during the exhibition to illustrate how quantity, format and color quality have evolved over time.

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