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Pioneers in colour in photography: William Eggleston, Joel Meyerowitz and Mitch Epstein

By Juni 26, 2020 No Comments

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L i s a  L u k y a n o v a

Pioneers in colour in photography: William Eggleston, Joel Meyerowitz and Mitch Epstein

Nowadays when we can create light and colour of the picture with the help of digital apps, it seems rather odd that it took several decades for color photography to regain its rightful place in collections and museums. The Kodak color film was already introduced in the 1920s and the full production of the improved Kodachrome began in 1935. For a long time, however, the color photographs had muted tones: the crowd dressed more than modestly, burgundy cars, brown houses.

However, when colour photography finally overthrew its monochrome father it became the major source of inspiration and work for many artists such as Mitch Epstein, William Eggleston and Joel Meyerowitz.

Joel Meyerowitz (1938, New-York, USA)

Joel Meyerowitz is a acknowledged genius, a universal master of photography, who knows how to find exceptional moments in ordinary places and has frequently changed the way he shoots. The famous photographer Robert Frank (author of the photo book „Americans“) had a tremendous impact on the oeuvre of Joel Meyerowitz.

In his reminiscences, he notes that it was Frank who contributed to his decision to take up photography. One of the episodes that took place in 1962 is quite remarkable. At that time Meyerowitz worked as an art director of the magazine and did not even think about photography. However, by chance got on the Frank’s shooting, was almost enchanted by his dynamic way of working, the constant movement around the model. At that moment it was not important for Meyerowitz how the result of the photo shoot would appear – he was attracted by the process itself.

Having no theoretical training in photography, Joel Meyerowitz was able to wrap this flaw in his favour. He was not bound by any dogmas or rules – he took pictures as he saw and felt in his heart.

In 1966, Meyerovitz took an 18-month trip across Europe, a journey that deeply inspired him and could be regarded as a turning point in his career as a photographer. There Meyerowitz was taking many shots from a moving car.

William Eggleston (1939, Tennessee, USA)

William Eggleston is an American photographer who contributed to making color photography an admissible and venerated art piece deserving of a gallery exhibition. 

The first big research on colour photography was in 1976, with an Eggleston exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and then the genre grew with the collaboration of the Dusseldorf School of Photography.

William Eggleston has an astonishing skill at creating amazing compositions from the most common items. Those who have seen the master at work have noted that Eggleston is very serious, even fanatic about the composition of objects. Picking the right angle sometimes took a lot of time for the photographer, but he always was rewarded with an impressive outcome.

The ordinary life of the American people. This is exactly the focus of the vast majority of William Eggleston’s photographs. He was not chasing sensational photos, did not shoot loud happenings – and, nevertheless, his shots are exciting, capturing the viewer’s attention for quite a long time.

Eggleston is still taking photographs as usual today. A new documentary film called „William Eggleston in the Real World“ presents the viewer with a unique personality, transmitting his view on work and life. The documentary was released in 2005.

Mitch Epstein ( 1952,  Massachusetts, USA)

Mitchell „Mitch“ Epstein (born 1952 in Holyoke, Massachusetts) – American photographer, and one of the first photographers using color. His photographs are in numerous major museum collections, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art; The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Tate Modern in London.

By the mid-1970s, Epstein had abandoned his academic studies and started traveling, beginning to study photography in the United States.

Ten of the photographs he made during this period were in a 1977 group exhibition at Light Gallery in New York. Ben Lifson wrote in his Village Voice review: “Mitch Epstein’s ten color photographs are the best things at Summer Light…. At 25, Epstein’s apprenticeship is over, as his work shows. He stands between artistic tradition and originality and makes pictures about abandoned rocking-horses and danger, about middle-age dazzled by spring blossoms, about children confused by sex and beasts. He has learned the terms of black-and-white photography, and although he adds color, he hasn’t abandoned them, loving photography’s past while trying to step into its future.”

During his life he published several books: New York Arbor, (Steidl, 2013) Berlin (Steidl & The American Academy in Berlin, 2011); American Power (Steidl, 2009); Mitch Epstein: Work (Steidl, 2006); Recreation: American Photographs 1973-1988 (Steidl 2005); and Family Business (Steidl 2003), which won the 2004 Kraszna-Krausz Photography Book Award.

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