New York

“Color Photography: 5 New Views”

Marlborough | Midtown

Within the last two decades color photography has become commonplace without losing any of its specialty. Color techniques now provide sharper, richer, truer to life images than ever before. The media have made color photography a prime player in the information game, using it to bring home—often in sublimated form (think of print advertising)—their message. Of course, what’s at the source of the appeal of color photography is its ability to show and tell more about people, places, and events—the way we were and it was, so to speak—than black-and-white photography is able to do.

All of the five photographers in this show belong to the “color boom babies” now in their twenties and thirties, the first generation to grow up seeing the world through chrome-saturated images. They also know and think about black-and-white photography. These issues turn up in different ways in each photographer’s work.

In Mark Cohen’s type-c prints of suburban life, from a commissioned series he did in 1977, images are radically cropped so as to catch the kind of factual but casual slice-of-life moment that the eye doesn’t see because the viewer takes it for granted. Hand Above Dog’s Head, 1977, for example, is just what the title says—we’re shown more hand than head. Cohen’s work in black-and-white photography, for which he is better known, is also at issue in these pieces; as information structures they feel curiously black-and-white, although as images they immediately impress themselves as color. Laurie Simmons has also worked in black-and-white. Her scenes of underwater swimmers give a vivid sense of the weight, coolness, sheen, and silence of an aqueous environment with a light and gravity of its own. These Cibachrome prints are sensuous and evocative.

David Katzenstein’s holiday places, including Coney Island and Oaxaca, Mexico, recall the importance of color in the genre of vacation photography. Shot with a 20-year-old fixed-focus camera, the images are hot, lush, and specific. Yulla uses recent color technology in Polaroid SX-70 prints of compositions that bring to mind early-20th-century Constructivist painting and abstract photography experiments. Think of Lyubova Popova’s paintings and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s photograms. Constructed from fragments of scenes of nature and architecture, these highly patterned and intense images are displayed in pairs, the elements of which engage in active formal dialogues with each other.

Color photography’s relationship to the other arts is also investigated in sculptor/photographer John Van Alstine’s landscapes. His scenes of majestic mountains and rolling plains are of the sort made famous not only by the “nature is beautiful” school of black-and-white photography but also by the plein air school of landscape painting. In Amish Easel Landscape, 1979, and Easel Landscape after Monet, 1980, the landscapes each contain a steel easel which frames a detail from the same scene. The juxtaposition of “the photograph within the photograph” and “the photograph” gives the images a biting conceptual edge that draws attention to the distinctive ways of seeing that photography and painting each offer.

Ronny H. Cohen