26
Sep
13

Exhibition: ‘Un/Natural Color’ at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA

Exhibition dates: 7th July – 29th September 2013

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Many thankx to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Un/Natural Color' at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Un/Natural Color' at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Installation photograph of the exhibition 'Un/Natural Color' at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

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Installation photographs of the exhibition Un/Natural Color at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

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“This exhibition looks at the powerful relationship between color and memory by considering photographs and the ways in which their unique color palettes evoke specific moments of the historical past. From the pastel hues of 19th-century hand-painted portraits, to the vibrant colors of late-1930s Kodachrome transparencies, and the faded, shifted tones of snapshots from the 1970s, different kinds of color reproduction are closely associated with the time periods that they most frequently represent. Each experiment in color photography was originally meant to convey a sense of the natural hues of the world, but as our expectations for realistic representation have evolved, these earlier technologies for representing color have also taken on new meaning. Today, the distinctive colors found in many vintage photographs speak as loudly to contemporary viewers about the period in which they were made as the content that they render visible. The exhibition suggests that the aesthetics of color are closely related to the evolution of photographic technology over the past 100 years, and encourages visitors to rethink the significance of color in contemporary photography through the lens of its multi-colored past. This exhibition was organized by Kim Beil, an art historian who teaches at the University of California, Santa Cruz.”

Text from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art website

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Jack Delano. 'Barker at the Grounds of the Vermont State Fair, Rutland' 1941, printed 1983

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Jack Delano
Barker at the Grounds of the Vermont State Fair, Rutland
1941, printed 1983
Dye transfer print
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Gift of the Bruce Berman and Nancy Goliger Berman Collection

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Jack Delano. 'At the Vermont State Fair, Rutland' 1941, printed 1985

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Jack Delano
At the Vermont State Fair, Rutland
1941, printed 1985
Dye transfer print
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Gift of the Bruce Berman and Nancy Goliger Berman Collection

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William Eggleston. 'Farm truck, Memphis, Tennessee' 1972

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William Eggleston
Farm truck, Memphis, Tennessee
1972

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2006.73.1-WEB

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Leroy Grannis
Greg Noll Surf Team at Duke Kahanamoku Invitational, Sunset Beach
1966, printed 2005
C-print, ed. 1/9
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Museum purchase with funds provided by Janet and Michael G. Wilson

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“Un/Natural Color, an exhibition of color photography from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s (SBMA) permanent collection, illustrates the history of color photography since the 19th century and examines how the shifted or faded colors of old photographs can evoke moments in the historical past. Responding to the widespread use of nostalgic filters in popular photography and social media apps, such as Instagram and Twitter, this presentation enables visitors to see first-hand the historical processes that inspired the aesthetics of these digital manipulations. Despite their reputation for preserving memories and stopping time, photographs themselves are susceptible to material changes over time. These changes are often most visible in the radical color shifts seen in old photographs, from the characteristic pink hue of snapshots from the 1950s to the yellowed borders and cool cast of prints from the 1970s. These changes also serve to complicate any simple belief in the ability of photography to faithfully represent the natural colors of the world.

While the exhibition includes a number of experimental early processes, including the chromolithographically-derived Photochrom process as well as an early Autochrome, the bulk of the imagery is drawn from the decades following the pivotal invention of Kodachrome, the first color slide film, which was made commercially available in 1936. Because this film, as well as Kodacolor negative film (1942), was sent back to Eastman-Kodak for processing, photographers’ control over their imagery was greatly reduced, leading many art photographers to resist the transition to color until decades later.

Un/Natural Color includes rarely-seen color work by two notable documentary photographers of the Depression era, Jack Delano and Marion Post Wolcott. Both worked for the Farm Security Administration (a government program associated with the New Deal) and made limited use of color film while on assignment documenting the effects of the Great Depression on rural American. Very few (if any) of these images were reproduced in the popular press, however, owing to the difficulty and cost of reproducing color photographs, and to color photography’s overwhelming association with commercial advertising at this time (as in Elmar Ludwig and Edmund Nagel’s image of the popular resort chain, Butlin’s).

The art establishment at large expressed little interest in color photography until the mid-1970s, following the inclusion of color work in two groundbreaking exhibitions: Stephen Shore’s vernacular landscapes in New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY (1975) and the solo exhibition of William Eggleston’s color photography at the Museum of Modern Art, NY (1976). Both of these important photographers are represented in Un/Natural Color, as well as work by photographers exploring similar uses of color to record everyday American scenes, including Jeff Brouws, Jim Dow, and Joel Meyerowitz.

Prior to the 1970s, some tentative forays into color photography were made by art photographers primarily known for their work in black-and-white (notably Harry Callahan), but color was more often derided for its populist associations and was typically allied with either snapshot photography or advertising and Hollywood. The negative connotation that color photography had acquired over the years in the art world was critical to its adoption by photographers like Shore and Eggleston, who used it to challenge conventional expectations for photographic art and to force viewers to look with new eyes at the familiar world around them.

An image such as Greg Noll Surf Team at Duke Kahanamoku Invitational, Sunset Beach by Leroy Grannis highlights the powerful ability of color photography to summon a unique historical moment. It is not just the classic haircut and short surf trunks sported by the surf legend, Greg Noll, that situates this photograph in the 1960s. Color photography at this time typically recorded color in a highly saturated, though fairly uniform manner, leaving some aspects of this photograph looking flat, rather than mimicking the subtle modulation of tone that is more commonly associated with the perception of depth by human vision.

The characteristic manner by which different color processes represent the colors of the world, as well as the changes that such color photographs suffer over time, are powerful indicators of the photograph’s history. When we look at color photographs, all of these markers are brought to bear on our interpretation of their subjects, leading us to question: what is natural color anyway?”

Press release from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art website

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Roman Freulich. 'Gloria Swanson' Nd

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Roman Freulich
Gloria Swanson
Nd
Dye transfer print
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Gift of Judith Caditz, Allan M. Caditz, Ellen Joan Abramson and Norman Abramson

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1986.22.22-WEB

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William Edwin Gledhill
Amanda Duff
1935
Dye transfer print
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Gift of Keith Gledhill

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Elmar Ludwig and Edmond Nagele. 'The Indoor-Heated Pool, Butlin’s Mosney' Nd

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Elmar Ludwig and Edmond Nagele
The Indoor-Heated Pool, Butlin’s Mosney
Nd

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William Henry Jackson. 'Colorado Railway Mountain View' 1898

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William Henry Jackson
Colorado Railway Mountain View
1898
Photochrom
Santa Barbra Museum of Art, Museum purchase

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2010.6.3-Jackson-WEB

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William Henry Jackson
Colorado Grand Canyon of the Arkansas
1898
Photochrom
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Museum purchase

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Saul Leiter. 'Snow' 1960

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Saul Leiter
Snow
1960

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Santa Barbara Museum of Art
1130 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11 am – 5 pm
Thursday Evenings 5 – 8 pm

Santa Barbara Museum of Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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