The 1960s saw colour photography extend beyond the realm of family snapshots into the world of fine art. Up until that time the art world felt that only black and white photography was worthy of consideration. Most people, especially art critics, were reluctant to embrace colour images. The great American photographer Walker Evans himself voiced dismay when he said, “Color tends to corrupt photography and absolute color corrupts it absolutely.”
Two of colour photography’s pioneers, Americans William Eggleston and Stephen Shore, helped define this new art form. Their work is raw and bracing. I particularly like when they create images using a limited, brash colour palette, as seen in the photographs below. The images are direct, everyday, possibly even banal. The in-your-face colour speaks pointedly to the viewer – no pretension, no apologies. It's a what-you-see-is-what you-get approach and we may not always like what we see.
Eggleston’s photograph of the yellow car, with its grey wheels echoes the yellow building in the background sitting on grey pavement. Both objects have yellow striations and their own antennas. One is permanently parked, the other is temporarily motionless – neither is going anywhere.
Shore's idle table tennis paddles have the same effect. Like a game of Xs and Os the two circular shapes sit facing the intersecting white X formed by the net and the painted line. Green on green on green. Is this common scene worthy of a photograph? Shore demands we take a second, closer look.
Eggleston and Shore's images, which also exhibit a strong sense of composition and acute understanding of natural light, proved that colour photography deserved to be recognized. Colour was no longer just for painters. It had found a new home and even though many viewers were initially uncomfortable, they soon settled in. As the writer, intellect and photography-enthusiast Susan Sontag said, “The painter constructs, the photographer discloses.” While the advent of colour photography may have disclosed a new way of looking at the world it also disclosed our own limitations and prejudices about what we call “art.”