PRINT January 1975

Photography: The Coming to Age of Color

CAN ANYONE REMEMBER THE first time he or she walked into a movie theater and did not expect to see a black-and-white film? That event might date from as early as the Cinerama ’50s, or it could have occurred as recently as the last decade, depending on one’s frequency of attendance in those dark palaces. But, as a happening, it most likely passed unnoticed. Multigray films, like radio and monophonic recording, were outgrown very gradually when the economic and technical investments necessary to supplant them found their market over a period of time. More important than that—psychologically—the satisfaction of a craving, for the world reproduced cinematically in color, had become such a normal state of affairs, so uneventfully standard, that one no longer remembers very well having grown accustomed to it.

Let a commercial feature producer feel nostalgic or operate on a shoestring, and shoot in black-and-white. We will greet his effort helplessly, with a pang, assured, whatever else its qualities, of an experience to be lived beneath our sensory means. On these terms alone, black-and-white imagery for a movie audience (or, for that matter, a TV audience), lingers on as a primitive situation or a historical phenomenon. Yet, who enters a current show of photographs and anticipates that they shall be in color?

The prints typically found there may have an up-to-the-minute pertinence to our lives, or may depart in the most adventurous way from the modes of their tradition. Anyone may grant that possibility and may be grateful when it is fulfilled. Still, viewed from the perspective of all the other full-blooded camera media, serious still photography in black-and-white offers a very archaic spectacle. How fascinating and peculiar that it has dominated its field even to such a farfetched moment as today.

Were there no social appetite for color or no imaginable realization of accurate hues in photography, we would understand this taboo quite well. Actually, it would not appear to us as a taboo at all because we would not have any conception that a prohibition is involved. There has simply never been a theory of black-and-white photography any more than there has been a theory of English. Everyone assumed a common language, and then went on to specifics. But the intense desire to ground photography in color stems right from its beginnings in the 1820s, when Niepce invented the medium. Time and again, 19th-century researchers were frustrated in their inability to find and program a permanent color-sensitive constituent into the photographic emulsion. Practitioners often took to hand-tinting their prints, in emulation of painting only insofar as its chroma remained the sole element that was more informing of the world than what was already available in photography. That color was manually added to an already developed black-and-white base (though in practice, it was sepia or ochre toned) paralleled experiments that led to exposures through colored screens or filters. (I’ll have occasion to refer back to this mentality of superimposition because it is still installed as a controversy in photographic esthetics today, though in a quite different form.)

The point remained, though, that as long as they lacked hues, photos reneged on their major premise of recording the world in all its sensory magnitude. Each advance in this area, illusory as it might have been, or faltering and cumbersome as it was, incited delirious hope. When Ducos du Hauron revealed a handsome color view of the French town Angoulême in 1877, when the Lumière brothers brought out their Auto-chromes in 1907, they were applauded. The introduction of dye transfers onto the plate or film, though they required multiple exposures for multiple negatives to produce one, completed color image finally led to composite, layered (dye coupler) emulsions, responsive to the different major light rays simultaneously (Kodachrome, 1935). From that date, any number of positive prints could be made from the reverse color negative, a development that reduced the cost, heightened the ease, improved the fidelity, and expanded the presence of color photographs so as to make them in our day, the premier mode of the camera. In every application of photography to public social use, and for the sheer domestic pleasure they afford, color photographs overmaster our visual sensibility.

Far from discovering any philosophical impediment to this condition, the great masters of photography wished it well, when they hadn’t actually enthused over it. A scholar would have to look far on the horizon to uncover even casual animus against color in the literature. Steichen, Stieglitz, and Weston are on record as having endorsed, and for a while, tried out color. Yet it is as if they and many others whose work has become indelible for us, were artists who knew about the existence of oil, watercolor and acrylic pigments—but they themselves drew. For the length of time, let us say 35 years, that it would have been possible to color imprint the art and the visual history they gave us, that option was not taken. Why was this?

At best, one lists contributing factors and constructs hypothetical answers. The picture that emerges seems a kind of stew in which laboratory difficulties and working attitudes jostle with the psychology of folklore and the restrictions of the market. In 1938, when Giselle Freund pioneeringly conceived the idea of portraying the notables of her day—Gide, Valery, Joyce—in color, she was enchanted by the possibilities even as she was aggrieved by the results. Subjects had to wear clothes light in tonality to avoid chronically murky registrations. Romain Rolland’s piercing blue eyes, the only specks of chroma in a pasty complexion, turned nondescriptly dark when reproduced in print. With black-and-white photos, the main structural problems were of tone and contrast. Color added to them the question of chromatic balance—a whole new domain of often treacherous recessions, weights, and advances that conditioned the thermal environment and deformed the space of the field. These factors, ungratefully hard to control, produced queasy anticipation of images. Early Kodachromes would show the scarlet bathing suit wearing the woman instead of the other way around. For, some printing dyes had an absorbency that defied modulation by light, while others had hardly enough to declare themselves through light.

If one looks at the volumes of U.S. Camera during the ’30s, color makes a desultory, brightening appearance, though it was confined, as black-and-white never was, to very specific subjects. Still-fifes, upper-class interiors, sports, theatrical portraits and stage scenes make up the usual repertoire. In other words, a specifically make-believe world, associated with fashion and entertainment, was reserved for expensive color reproduction. Even the color cover of a 1934 folio of Man Ray photographs is an exotic, precious still-life. It was apparently assumed that color did not have any graphic value or artistic potential at all. It may have been dramaturgically rich, but it was perfectly unsound as a reliable witness of real events. The chief color movie of the decade, Selznick’s Gone With The Wind, was, of course, a pageant that had nothing to do with the appearances of contemporary life. (Incidentally, the wave of recent popular color films with ’30s subjects may have something to do with our curiosity incited by the absence of any chromatic record of life during that period. Is there even one photograph of the Depression in color?) The other genre, permissible to explore in color, was a souped-up, Old-Masterish, Romantic tableau whose favorite hues were brown russet, and whose preferred surfaces were burnished. A late practitioner of this mode, all the more compensatingly refined because her medium is Polaroid, is Marie Cosindas.

By 1940, there appeared Ivan Dimitri’s Kodachrome and How to Use It, an influential book that propounded, as its title indicates, helpful clues to more animated and effective color photography. Though it displayed advances in the medium, it provoked a most negative view of the state of the art. The book could not have been better calculated to let its readers associate color photography with postcards, National Geographic, commercial assignments, calendars, fashion, tourism and snapshots (many of which, today, have ripened rather charmingly). No doubt a far more sportive and demotic element had entered and would be identified with the color process, as it improved for home consumption. In effect, though, one has to distinguish here between two kinds of intents regarding propaganda for color photography in the ’40s.

With the rise of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, the haut monde could be shown forth with a truly peacock splendor. This tendency continued, of course, through the affluent ’50s, kicked off more or less officially by a book called The Art and Technique of Color Photography edited and introduced by Aline Saarinen, 1951. Here was a volume of glossy work by such practiced cameramen as Arthur Penn and John Rawlings. They would flood their elegantly caparisoned grandes dames with one luxurious hue, azure perhaps, or rose, to bring out the most cosmetic moods. At the same time, however, color prints were increasingly collected in family albums and were most familiar in that homey context. (The color testimony of significant events was, for all practical purposes, confined to a documentation of the war. And on both sides, military photographers did a creditable job.)

But for the free-lance professionals, those who were making the artistic history of the medium, both of these intents, technicolor stylishness and amateur insouciance, were cautionary. Without much reflection, but with evident accuracy, they concluded that the contexts of images reproduced increasingly in color proved that the new palette in photography, with its bogus lushness, had become the captive of the most vulgar visual lusts of the mass audience. The cheaper or the more useful or kitschy the content, the more likely the image would be manufactured through economic and technical resources that were beyond the means of the masters. Slides, of course, when they came, did not mollify this impression. Hobbyists, with their spontaneous desire for the glamour of color, could get their glib efforts industrially developed and processed. A maestro like Walker Evans might have to earn his living by doing corporate color assignments for Fortune, but that would only reinforce his belief, along with that of his peers, that the important, because nonmercantile, work, was in black-and-white. For them, the typical Kodacolor print of the period enjoyed as poor a reputation then, as infra-red, solarized, tinted, and synthesized color experiments do today. It was tainted with the stigma of misuse, triviality, and extravagance.

But the great shortcoming of color output, as viewed by independents, was that it was physically materialized by agencies other than the makers themselves. The long tradition of individualized, self-executed and crafted photographic production need hardly be emphasized here. Every practitioner of ambition developed his or her own work: toning, filtering, altering the values, cropping, printing, etc. A goal of optimum personal control was inbred into their minds, and reached, perhaps, its apogee in the razor-sharp edges and clinically adjusted gradations of Ansel Adams. A visual artifact entirely supervised by the photographer himself, and wrought to the extremest form of resolution: this was an impossible ideal when your work was in the hands of technicians in the color lab. Nor did the uncertain permanence of color prints gladden those who had every right to take permanence for granted.

On the other hand, a school of important photographers, not at all concerned with the nuances of craft, but the acuteness of the observing eye, would have no use for color film because it was not fast enough to crystallize instantaneous behavior in public places, or within historical events. I refer to the photo-journalists of well-deserved fame and import grouped together by the Magnum agency: Robert Capa, Chim, Bischof, etc. Both the Adams and the Magnum attitudes (I use them only as convenient stereotypes), however different their impulses, were aristocratic, perhaps of necessity, but also through choice, when it came to the color alternative. The subjects with which they were concerned demanded a sobriety, even a certain starkness, which defined their respective notions of photographic naturalism. Upon their deftness in bringing about this naturalism, their reputations hinged. The more easy, lurid, and plebian graces of color were inevitably equated with unrealism.

This was a situation very much the reverse of the prior history of the contrasts between exclusive and mass tastes in the pre-modern arts. But it cannot be said that the memorable black-and-whites of the last three decades were less accessible to the public than work in color. Being photographs all, they did not require any particular class identity or special education to be understood. On the contrary, it had been spontaneously established in our consciousness that news of the real world was given to us by photographs in black-and-white—no matter how many perceptual adjustments were necessary to make intelligible their reduced version of our actual optical experience.

Much of this began to change in the ’60s, the era of Pop art, standard color movies, and color television. The media transformations that concern us here, however, evolved from the flourishing of magazine journalism—the opulent, color-fat issues of Life, Look, Paris-Match, and Stern. Many of the older trademarked professionals saw no reason to accommodate themselves to the chromatic lavishness that was now possible through bigger circulations and more advertising. Besides, they would have to adjust very uncomfortably to seeing through the view finder what their eyes actually saw, and not some tonal abstraction whose perverse schematism betokened their occupational skill. Until now, it would not have occurred to any of these people that they had made any choice in doing black-and-white, or that they might be considered conservative in refusing color spreads. Eisenstadt, Arnold Newman, Eliot Elisofon, and Philippe Halsman were seasoned professionals who adapted themselves to color assignments on demand, though without appreciable gains. But it fell to younger men, of whom, in 1965, there was a shortage, to make their mark in this area.

Mention should be made here of Ernst Haas, a Life magazine Paganini of Kodachrome, who had taken it into his head that color photography should be about, not the sensations, but the sensationalizing of color. In the words of his captioners, he communicates “the dynamism of the modern metropolis,” or “makes appealing patterns.” His multiple styles were, indeed, at the mercy of these “patterns,” this “dynamism,” all a-flutter within the meringues and frappes of a hyped-up palette.

. . . the best black-and-white reproduction of a Titian, Veronese, or Renoir is comparable to a conscientious piano transcription of an orchestral score, whereas the colour print, with rare exceptions, is like a reduced orchestra with all the instruments out of tune.

So wrote the art historian Edgar Wind. I can well remember my own professors in those same early ’60s chiming in with similar sentiments, though less wittily, to the effect that paintings were libeled by the color photograph precisely because its mendaciously seductive hues tempted students to substitute its image for the reality. This, obviously, was an illusion that black-and-white, with all its impoverishment, would never suggest. These scholars, more subtle but still in agreement with those who were put off by the “irreality” of color, favored a graphic distancing that at least set forth a fuller array of tones received by the eyes from outer phenomena. This was a little like saying that piano music should only be played in the bass because the treble part deceived about the composer’s intentions.

But black-and-white should not be accorded any particular moral edge by virtue of its natural insufficiencies. Thinking of this virtue in terms of rhetoric, Art Kane, later to become a well-known magazine photographer in color, said in 1961:

The very nature of pulling something from the context of its natural surroundings automatically creates a super-dramatic image. However, this super-dramatic image minus its natural color equates itself into [sic] a psychological truth. In other words, it is a combination of overstatement and understatement. This combination results in an acceptable or believable statement. (“Color Is a Liar,” p. 84, from Photographic Communication, edited by R. Smith Schuneman, 1972.)

There is reason to suppose that if your mind is habituated to a black-and-white rendition of things, color will seem to you an overstatement. But remarks like Kane’s have everything to do with the realities of media conditioning, and hardly deal with any event inherent or constant in visual experience itself.

Such photographers afflict themselves with a suspicion of the beauty to be derived from Kodachrome, acceptable to them only if the aim is a deliberate artifice or emotive “interpretation.” With them the belief endures, somehow, that gray is the color of tact, yet remains ideal as the realm of blunt truth (a very curious contradiction). “To this day,” announces David Duncan in 1968,

I’ve never made a combat picture in color—ever. And I never will. It violates too many of the human decencies and the great privacy of the battlefield. In the photography of war I can in a way dominate you through control of black and white. I can take the mood down to something so terrible that you don’t realize the work isn’t in color. It is color in your heart, but not in your eye. (Ibid, p. 88.)

Many people will not be able to grasp that color is more voyeuristic than black-and-white, although they will agree that it is more explicit. But this fact, I should have thought, argues for exactly the reverse of Duncan’s convictions. Surely we must concede to the best black-and-white in recent times, a presumptive controlling artificiality, a rhetoric of contrasts that opposes itself, on a symbolic plane, to the gauche factuality of life. Duncan himself chooses color when he photographs his clownish friend Picasso or the treasures of the Kremlin, that is, theatrical or exotic subject matter. Ron Haberle was obviously innocent of Duncan’s rectitude when he shot the My Lai massacre victims in come-as-you-are color, achieving emotional results that violated more than the decorum of some fellow cameramen. Indeed, these may well be the first great news photographs in color.

But I jump ahead of my story. For it was inconceivable that the graphic consciousness of photography, even on its own terms, should ever resist the blandishments of the full spectrum of hues. When we speak of the richness of the darks in Adams’ prints, say the sky, we are looking at something literally very inky, though it conjures up an absent blue of the deepest saturation. The intensity of its profile against lighted ground images functions as a coloristic, not a modeling element in his work. No one will deny Adams this metaphoric license, so intrinsic to the medium and so cannily used by him. But it is clear, nonetheless, that actual color would not make any advance upon our sensibilities until it satisfied the hard demands black-and-white photographers put upon themselves to record the fine gamut of volume-defining tones that existed in nature.

Though perhaps he would not then, nor even today be discussed in such fashion, this task was accomplished by Eliot Porter. We are unlikely to see again the dazzling, jewel-like printing that distinguished the Sierra Club books of 1961–62: In Wildness Is The Preservation Of The World, and The Place No One Knew, both illustrated by Porter with a fanatic care that every lovely ripple of water or streak of desert varnish take its chromatic place in the surface articulation of the natural firmament. Without sacrificing a delicacy of color nuance that seems infinite to us, he grips his motif with a clear, hard precision of contour and imparts to it a tactile denseness that roots his palette deep into matter. Overnight, the gauzy memories of Kodachrome in countless books were burned away, and with them, the myth that only black-and-white was capable of high resolution. None of this looked “easy,” nor could it have been at all casual in the performance. The drains, hollows, and bowers of the wilderness seem wetted by a miraculous dew that sets forth their brilliance with a sensory realism almost combustible in impact. “The ground glass,” ventures Walter Boje, “isolates color the way a concert hall isolates music.” Porter’s unforgettable sonority, orchestrated through the preserving lens, traces back through Adams to Jackson and O’Sullivan, the pioneer photographers of an illimitable West, whose threatened bloom must now be celebrated as a rare spectacle.

Here, then, was an aristocratic program, an aristocracy of craft rather than of style or subject in color. If one is to think only of the expenses of such undertakings—always exceedingly more than in black-and-white—nothing can equal the devastating costs gone into the Gemini photos of the earth taken for NASA. Capitalized far more than any blockbuster movie, with cruel social sacrifices, they are also images of such splendor and fascination that they renew, at each encounter, the joy of being able to see.

Yet, they are in a tradition that by the late ’60s did not have to be self-conscious about its advantages. These were always plainly visible in the ordinary information they furnished about seasonal changes or time of day (often independent of permanent shapes), facial complexions, the health or age of persons established more by color than features, the temperature of the moment, and the symbolic aura of signs of every description, that lack meaning without hue. Black-and-white photographs themselves would have been deprived in significance for us if we did not see them in color, and make allowances for their amazing reductions.

Certain paradoxes could be further explored here, butthey should be thankless because it would be hard to say that photographs owe their content solely to the fact that they belong to the one or other category discussed so far. On the contrary, the means at the disposal of photographers realize themselves most often in genre intentions whose specific goals are hopefully reformulated. To show this happening when the means chosen are chromatic, let me now consider three young artists working today.

Neal Slavin travels on his own around the United States, taking group portraits of organizations or clubs, like Camp Fire girls, circuses, Elk members, mummers, and firemen, eventually to be gathered in a book of large color prints. He quotes de Tocqueville:

The Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies in which all take part but associations of a thousand other kinds, religious, moral, serious, futile, restricted, enormous, or diminutive. . . .

To picture a gigantic society, cross-sectionally by means of its clanning and small civic or community bonds, is essentially an anthropological undertaking. It is oriented toward collective rather than individual identities, most often established by ritual and regalia. There may be something perplexing, uplifting, strained, or finally touching about the sight of these thousands in mufti, losing themselves in their role, at least for this one formal moment, to a stranger. Some appear very conscious of the decorative spectacle they are making, and all seem pleased to be an object of interest. More than to any specific activity, these gorgeous prints dedicate themselves to the gesture of commemoration itself. But they are neither commissioned nor off-hand, as with the endless images in the group portrait genre from which they stem. On the other hand, like many photographers we recognize as strong independents, Slavin is a proficient commercial artist. Much of the supercharged lighting and posing skills displayed by the professional are at work here, minus the advertising motive. He upholds, yet displaces, both references, and puts them at the disposal of his cardinal interest—color.

Infinite opportunities for pattern, contrast, accent, and scintillation are availed of with a breathtaking, guileless virtuosity. The curious pomp of Slavin’s subjects is always discovered in its appropriate setting, whether this be a chamber for Buddhist worship in Los Angeles, or a football stadium. Park Service rangers station themselves against the backdrop of the Grand Canyon, with a brilliant sky overhead, so diminishing them that one can say of this, as well as many other prints, that they are landscapes or interiors as much as they are portraits. When the place is a theater or stage, the colored filter light—cyan, orange, or cerise—becomes an oomphy subject in its own right, to which the sitters respond. They may mug or be perfectly serious, whatever; the photographer is always straight with his models. He engages them in a spontaneously contracted presentation, to whose abrupt flair or sobriety both parties are instinctively alive. This is social picture-making of novel distinction, leavened, sometimes, with subtle humor. In one print, air traffic supervisors gaze at us with such blinkered attention from within their tower that one fears a jumbo jet will crash at any second far out behind them on the runway. So far from the routine is his way of looking that he can even compose a group, of which he is a member, The Society For Photographic Education, to include the black umbrellas shielding and bouncing high intensity lights down into the multihued crowd, as a reflection of his own process and the Society’s interests. Here, the dialogue between black-and-white and color is really ebullient.

Stephen Shore has very little in common with Slavin, other than youth, the fact of being a highly urbanized New Yorker constantly on the move through rural or small town America, and the mutual decision to use the view camera’s color prints as expressive vehicle. There is an unsettling current of aggression and passivity in Shore’s pictures of indigenous buildings and their settings. By any of the usual criteria of architectural interest or civic grace, they are grossly undistinguished vistas. Yet, though accepted in their very banality, they are often transfigured by a suavity of color or beauty of light that can be extremely assertive. Even more, this contrast does not seem forced in the least. Shore nervelessly blinks the exquisite nuances glancing off unaffecting places with commanding visibility. There had been an irony to this campaign at the start. Three years ago, he produced an ordinary postcard folio retailing ten “famous” sights of Amarillo, Texas (Amarillo Tall in Texas). The company that manufactured them toned in a blue sky to give one shot a “better” appearance. Some 35 mm Kodacolor prints that followed resemble images on the bulletin boards of suburban real estate agencies.

But this artist hit his stride when he found the technical means (at first in 4“ x 5”, and then 8“ x 10” scale), to honey with an almost Vermeer-like luminosity, the antiseptic supermarkets of middle America. To this end, the individual prints, which are color corrected by machine, function in a special way. They are highly endowed and privileged artifacts that bestow upon the sensations they frame a physical dignity and refinement that would not have been arrested in a more modest format. No one I know has gotten hues as precious from car paint reflections or the stone or stucco of a building hit by long light. The imagery sits there, warmed by a fugitive glow, but resistant to any passage of time, ultimately quiet and unpeopled.

It takes, perhaps, some while to adjust to the fact that a traveler to new places has shot these photos in a spirit exactly the opposite of a tourist. What he singles out for attention in Kanab, Utah, or Durango, Colorado, is not a local curiosity, found there and no place else, but something much rarer: the complexion of a scene we fail to notice because the objects within it are too familiar. It makes the career of a mentor as self-conscious as Walker Evans look like that of a raving propagandist (which it wasn’t). The younger man takes his place in a much less heroic and monumentalizing culture, whose highbrow tastes and lowbrow motifs coexist very well.

Shore’s shift away from social information, when it is precisely that kind of information that seems isolated, is very artistic. In Ashland, Wisconsin, to mention one example, the facade of a movie mill showing The Poseidon Adventure radiates a fabulous, dusky glamour, like a jeweled diadem.

Still, he obviously responds to the environment as it is used by human beings, even if his response is detached. He not only brings a sharp eye to the sports within common architectural types but also conveys a feeling of what it means to travel alone through these landscapes where he works but does not live. He is fond, not of tasteful solutions to city planning, but the personalities of unsung buildings that have risen without planning. The same applies to his frequent portraits of country breakfasts, with congealed syrup around the wheat-cakes, and Holiday Inn-type lunches, with their picked chicken bones and squeezed lemons. Nor has he forgotten to show us some of the dingy motel rooms on the road, where it may be that he is watching daytime television. In the end, if his art illustrates anything, it is the theme of being alone in color, a solitary in a lavishly rendered brick, grassroots, and plastic America. Change the setting, but keep the impetus of that solitary mind, and one may very well recall that Atget to whom Shore offers up his deepest homage.

The last photographer whose work I describe is Joel Meyerowitz, also a New Yorker, who does slides in the Leica tradition of Cartier-Bresson, and more recently, Garry Winogrand. It had been an acutely rapid, expression grabbing form of urban photography. But Meyerowitz, especially in the last year, transposes it into color with Kodachrome II, occasionally aided by a strobe flash.

In his hands, that extralumi nous boost neither bleaches saturations nor even startles the unsuspecting. But it does emblemize the split-second decisions he makes, and much of the apparently casual mystery and complexity he gets. A flash heightens values and separates blurred or moving contours. Through these actions, though, it virtually creates a new scene that had not been there before. At first sight, these slides, exactly because they are slides, mislead by their varied foci, and swarming information; you take them to be the lucky images of an amateur—certainly very honorable things to be. But they yield up their dense contents in a slow way, each and every successive image, and they are unlocked only by a visual input that must recognize the consistent rigor with which they have been structured. This penetrating behavior of the photographer comes about through a lubricated vigilance, able to cut in on action at point-blank distances as short as three feet.

Still, it is a gentler vision than his earlier black-andwhites because of the finer grain of the film, and the greater vulnerability of flesh seen in its natural hues. Because we carry around memories of street vignettes in black-and-white (cf. Lewis Hine), we’re unprepared to see these kinds of “news” choreographed voluptuously out of the spectrum. The shock of it here, as well as with much recent, serious chromatic work, is to make the usual mode look by contrast harsh, thin, and abstract. And what a revealing challenge it must be to the photographer who now not only juggles the dynamic ratios of space and time in terms of values, but also must clock the escaping and impinging energies of color as well.

Meyerowitz accomplishes all this with a mercurial grace those few acquainted with his work have come to expect from him. Many people first officially saw the possibilities at the Helen Levitt slide show at MoMA, where the panoply of New York ghetto streets burst like a Latin market upon the screen. He himself finds phenomena just as vivacious in the way pedestrians tailgate and sidestep each other on glittering Fifth Avenue. It requires a lithe muscularity combined with the finest visual tolerances to catch people so light on their feet. A bikinied tigress swivels her bronzed torso as she possibly waits for a yacht at a Miami jetty, while far down the street in deep space, a small block of emerald green beckons to the plane. And over on West End Avenue in Manhattan, on an otherwise gray day, a patch of sunlight, lower left, spots a yellow green oak leaf, twisting down alongside a building. Ten feet further in and somewhat to the right, the white plastic wrapping on a hydrant has come partially unfurled and streams horizontally into the street. There is no telling what episode will upstage the on-center material, or where, even, the center is, in this simultaneous dialogue between plot and subplot. The photographic theme wells up through an unpredictable lyricism flushed out from faces and objects in everyday transit.

Some final remarks.

Of the expressive realism of these new color efforts, there can be little doubt. But they are cued by the black-and-white traditions as well as the chromatic background I have already mentioned. Even the most original artists demonstrate a vital continuity with their past, and the methods of it here, with all their variety and visual wealth, are rehabilitated by a conviction that the earlier hierarchical judgments of photographic content and form are very much open to the recreating mind. This certainly applies to slides, their role in our visual culture. What pleasure there is in thinking of the literally millions of unknown, but brilliant transparencies reposing in hidden carousels across the world! They must comprise a mass treasury of imaginative coups, impossible to compute. I shall admit immediately that the majority of them are not concerned with the canons or limits of photographic genres. They will not necessarily exhibit the purposefulness nor concision of artists whose cumulative and individual patterns of perceiving implant themselves in our consciousness. Yet, they were never subject to the prejudices that made the onset of ambitious color photography so belated. Surely the random color excitement snapped by hobbyists, without pretension, makes up a genre of its own. It takes for granted the fidelity of the means and the dazzling malleability of hues as a birthright from which there evolves a furthered grasp of the visual world.

To look at slides—projected images composed only of light—you must place yourself in a dark room. In this, the experience resembles the generous ravishments of the movies. A slide show, indeed, is like a poor man’s movie, though private and highly personalized. Emerging from such a show, to the out-of-doors, one is at first struck by the pallidness of things. Gradually, then, their circulation is restored to them, without any benefit of the intensifying contrast of the dark chamber. The illusion that the color of slides is overcharged or out of tune, dims away, unremarked, with the opening of our pupils. Thereafter, the volatility of sense circuits out at us anew. If we do not have a camera in our hands to record it as we will, we have yet a more kinetic instrument, our eyes, to receive it in the flesh.