Book Review: Color Photography

The art of color

A suitably huge book for a big subject. I thought it succeeded in portraying the feel and complexity of color photography over the last few decades despite some annoying editorial lapses.

Author Gabriel Bauret writes a twenty page essay in the front of the book (in very large type so it didn't take too long to read) but it covers a lot of thought provoking areas. Included in the essay are some amazing early color images, kicking off with Steichen's 1906 Flat-Iron building which turns out to be a gum bichromate print. Also included is a lovely Edward Weston shot of a Monterey dock taken in 1946.

The rest of the book is divided into eight chapters: Nudes & still life; Visual researches; Fashion; Stage settings; Portraits; Reportage; Landscapes and finally Cities & daily life. Ninety-three photographers contribute 124 color photos with most of them large on the page (check out the book's dimensions in the Product Details) and with a 175 screen printed on a thick semi-art matt paper the photos jump of the page.

The large size and quality printing does create a problem with some of the images though, because many of the originals, by the nature of the various photographic papers they are printed on, soften the image which is picked up by the printing process. Plate 85 with a beautiful 1979 shot of an Irish village by Harry Callahan appears soft when compared to an equally fascinating pin-sharp 1999 panorama of the inside of a supermarket by Andreas Gursky (plate 116).

The 'Visual researches' chapter has eleven photos that merge into more experimental work with an amazing Sandy Skoglund shot of three dancing figures whose bodies seem to be made out of jelly beans (typical Sandy I thought). The theme of the book means that some regular favorites turn up here and there: the 'Cities' chapter comes up with Julius Shulman's 1958 night shot looking over Los Angeles from Pierre Koenig's Case Study House, William Eggleston's red ceiling motel bedroom taken in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1973 and Stephen Shore's 1975 Brea Avenue and Beverley Boulevard, still looking impressive as Plate 82.

I mentioned some editorial lapses in this book. It originated as a French title and despite having chapters there is no Contents page, probably because there are no page numbers. The back page photo credits listing is not alphabetic but runs in Plate order so it's not easy to look up a particular photographer. I thought it would have been useful to have a page or two describing the various photographic formats and papers: Kodachrome; Polaroid; Agfacolor; Fujicolor and others. The best book I've found about this is The Printed Picture.

'Color photography' is a useful overview to the subject and perhaps best of all this big book can be picked up at bargain prices if you look around the net. There is a new published paperback edition which I think is best avoided because it is small, chunky and the thick paper makes it rather unwieldy to handle.

Color Photography is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN)

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Doesn't this title page (and spread) really need some sort of image?

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A spread from Gabriel Bauret twenty page essay in the front of the book. Set in very large type but quite fascinating.

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Intriquing Sandy Skoglund photo from 1998.

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Hand-colored photo by Jan Saudek, 1974.

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Each chapter has a spread or two of text.

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Stephen Shore, Los Angeles, 1975.

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