Contemporary photography is now almost synonymous with vibrant, splashy pictures. But there was a time when the use of color was new and revolutionary. Long understood to be the province of commercial and amateur photographers or the staple of popular advertisements, magazines, and billboards, color photography was shunned by artists until the 1960s and 1970s.
When Color Was New focuses on a generation of artists—including William Christenberry, William Eggleston, Helen Levitt, Joel Meyerowitz, and Stephen Shore—who turned away from black-and-white photography. Their color pictures forced a radical rethinking of both photography’s artistic capabilities and classifications, setting the stage for much art photography today.
In many respects, Eggleston—whose work Near Jackson, Mississippi was recently acquired by the Art Institute—established himself as the foundational figure in the art of color photography. Whether a pensive consideration of a simple household object or an exercise in the abstracted American palette of red, white, and blue, Eggleston’s image of a hanging jacket is an example of how the artist’s work in color revolutionized photography. John Szarkowski, curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, recognized this contribution and in 1975 praised Eggleston’s works: “[T]hey seem to me perfect: irreducible surrogates for the experiences they pretend to record, visual analogues for the quality of one life, collectively a paradigm of a private view, a view one would have thought ineffable, described here with clarity, fullness, and elegance.”
Katherine Bussard, Assistant Curator of Photography