Color Rush: 75 Years of Color Photography in America, which will open to the public Friday, features color photographs from iconic photographers experimenting with the medium both commercially and artistically.
“That urge for color had been around since the beginning of photography, but 1907 is the moment that hobbyists, amateurs and professional artists alike could go access a process that would create an automatic color image,” said co-curator Katherine Bussard of the Art Institute of Chicago.
That process entailed autochromes, color photographs, best viewed through an optical projector known as a Diascope.
The exhibit is divided into four sections. As visitors enter the exhibit, they find a Diascope on display along with autochrome facsimile photos produced by photographers like Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. As visitors continue, they encounter photos of the 1930s and 1940s with examples of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and some of the first color photographs printed in newspapers. The second portion of the exhibit also features clips of Hollywood’s first color films, such as The Wizard of Oz.
The third section highlights the art form during the Post-World War II era, when color photography became more popular among artists known for black and white images and as color photographs gained recognition in art museums. Life magazine also began to play a pivotal role in color photography, as noted by the exhibit.
“Life magazine championed photography from its very first date,” Bussard said. “Part of its founding mission was to celebrate news through photography and, not surprisingly, Life embraces color photography.”
Rounding out the exhibit are color photographs from the 1960s and 1970s, at which point color images dominated popular culture and color photography became a widely accepted part of contemporary art practice.
In creating the exhibit over the last six years, Bussard and co-curator Lisa Hostetler, curator of photography at Smithsonian American Art Museum and former curator of photographs at MAM, set parameters on the collection so that all photos would be American and would not contain any applied color. They also tried to incorporate photos that marked significant firsts, such as the first Vogue cover photographed in color.
While color photography is everywhere today, Bussard hopes the exhibit refreshes visitors’ perspectives of the art form that has come a long way in the last century.
“I hope they take away a little bit of that sort of wonder or surprise and delight that I think is possible if we can successfully remind visitors that there was a time when color was new and color was different, and I hope that some of that comes across,” Bussard said.
Color Rush: 75 Years of Color Photography in America will be on display through May 19. For more information, visit www.mam.org/color-rush.