The Magical Power of Early Color Photography

February 22, 2013 § 1 Comment

autochrome-maynard-owen-william-bateaux-sur-la-plage-par-temps-d-orage-rowboatson-beach-southern-franceI recently discovered the Autochrome: the world’s first color process photography. I imagined color photography prior to Techicolor (the visually rich world of mid-century films like Gone With The Wind and National Velvet), would represent an either extreme or muted version of reality. However, the Autochrome’s subtle texture and soft hues capture something so real and vivid about the world that I now see digital photography as a bit more stark and sterile. Over a hundred years since their capture, these autochromes still feel alive and vital.
I would love to fill a wall with these photographs. They would enrich any room, and the lives of it’s inhabitants.

autochrome DSK77-AUTOCHROME-1822 Louis Ducos du Hauron - Duhauron1877 Autochrome 13x18 v3A Brief History

(From In 1903, the Lumiere brothers patented the first commercially successful color process, which they called the Autochrome Lumiere. It involved glass plates, a backlight, soot and (oddly) potato starch — and it revolutionized photography. Magazines like National Geographic started dispatching photographers to shoot with autochromes; documentary fieldwork became more feasible with this relatively portable medium. For about 30 years, it was the most widely used process for capturing color.



Beautiful Disasters: Why We Love Shipwrecks

December 31, 2012 § 1 Comment

shipwreck_480Claude Joseph Vernet, The Shipwreck, 1772 (National Gallery of Art, Washington)

I visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s exhibition, “Shipwreck! Winslow Homer and ‘The Life Line” on a blustery, snowy December day. A perfect setting to absorb the chilly, complex, and sensual shipwreck paintings curated from a diverse group of artists spanning the course of 150 years. The show’s central piece “The Life Line” is one of Homer’s best known, but not his best.

philadelphiaImage5The Life Line, 1884. Winslow Homer. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Homer, a New England native, began his career creating illustrations for Harper’s Weekly. His early paintings demonstrate a strong narrative component, of which “The Life Line” is a prime example. In this painting, we see a shipwrecked woman rescued by an anonymous (his face obscured by her scarf) man. The obvious themes (heroism, valor, human ingenuity) feel a bit cliche, even trite. Yet the collection of paintings, which bring together diverse strands of intellectual and art history, demand that the viewers address difficult questions about the value and preservation of human life amidst the demands of survival and commerce.

winslow homer northeasterHomer, who went on to create a stunning body of landscape paintings, later foregrounded nature and it’s massive, often prehistoric presence beyond the human scale.

Well over a hundred years later, disaster at sea is far from the minds of Americans and their artists. However, our focus has now shifted to disasters of which we are not innocent bystanders, but active participants. The stunning work of Edward Burtynsky, a landscape photographer, depicts scenes of human impact on the environment. The images are profoundly different from the more Romantic works of  Vernet & Homer, yet we still stare and gasp, and marvel at the shape, color and composition of disaster. CHNA_SHY_13Edward-Burtynsky-IBQ_08 20100916-Burtnsky3


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