Lars,

My reply to you was glib. I apologize. Your article, I was remiss to say, was thoughtful — important, too, for less well informed photography enthusiasts to read.

Let me suggest a few more early color shooters for you:

  • Pete Turner
  • Art Kane
  • Jay Maisel
  • Galen Rowell
  • Elliott Porter
  • Robert Ketchum (he’s a friend, and the only one of the above still breathing)

Even the great b+w portraitist Irving Penn (a personal inspiration, with whom I’ve corresponded) made exquisite still-life compositions in both b+w and color. These names are just off the top of my head. Others may come to mind. I’m intentionally omitting the early experimenters, mostly in France I think, pioneering the autochrome process, who are primarily of historical interest.

Philosophically speaking, if photography — irrespective of wavelength — is conceived as art today, it follows that photography has always been an expression of art. But it took until the early 70s for critics and collectors to reach that consensus and for dealers to establish a marketplace. Do you agree?

I would be an idiot if I didn’t agree with you, that specific photographers scorned the use of color, both in art and reportage, during the 50s. I really should have written, it was not universally scorned. Established photographers had louder voices, of course; and their prejudices were founded in what they knew by habituation and personal experience. They honed their skills — and their opinions — in b+w. The legends of the lens did indeed learn their craft in a world where color film was unavailable and, thus, unthinkable. Had it been otherwise, from the get go, I think they would have had different opinions. Their obstinacy to embrace new technology was then, as now, a common human foible: protectionism and defensiveness motivated by fear. For HCB, color probably would be connerie, fou! It wouldn’t otherwise be HCB, would it? But I think he was more articulate with his Leica than his lips. Hey, wait a minute! Let’s colorize his pictures just like Ted Turner did to b+w Noir movies like “Casablanca”! Won’t that look great! Not. 😱

Some photographs work best in color and fail in b+w , or vice versa. Of course, it is an artist’s prerogative to decide, not a critic’s. Anyone who contends that black-and-white is purer than color, or that color is crass, hyperreal, unimaginative, or unnecessary is a narrow-minded pedant; even if he (most likely a he) is a fine photographer. That comment is tantamount to other preposterous pontifications like rock-and-roll is lesser musically than jazz.

I developed my own a preference for the reductive drama conveyed by black-and-white, when I portray a human being as the essential theme: a portrait. I don’t disdain color portraiture one bit. If I’m shooting for a client my decision to shoot black-and-white instead of color, or in addition to color, is predicated by whom I’m shooting — and for whom. (I preview the final print both ways in my mind’s eye.) Sometimes color is superfluous; it distracts. On the other hand, color may simply be the cherry on top. It’s usually obvious, at least to me, one way or the other. But sometimes both work, equally compelling for what would otherwise be an identical portrait.

You are right to point out how the pioneers of color photography were smart not to simply add color gratuitously to a medium that had evolved in b+w, and that they were so familiar with. The most successful color proponents, early on, used color for color’s sake; making color itself the subject of their compositions. Later, generally speaking, as they became increasingly sophisticated in their use of color, they used it even more sparingly—with more subtlety. And, as you noted, many pioneering color photographs were successful exactly because they depicted the mundane.

The world looked grittier before the advent of color photography. Grit is good; but there’s so much more.

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ARTREPRENEUR, PHOTOGRAPHER, CLARINETIST, MOTORCYCLIST Fate follows the path of least resistance. Success follows the path of maximum persistence.

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