Tag Archives: Color Photography

History in Color: Rare Photographs of Czarist Russia

A bright orange orb hangs just above the horizon under an expanse of blue and yellow sky. It’s hard to take an interesting picture of a sunset, and at first glance, there is nothing remarkable about this one. What is remarkable, however, is that this vivid image was taken a century ago—a time usually seen only in black and white.

The sunset is just one of thousands of color photographs that Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii made between 1905 and 1915. With funding from Czar Nicholas II, he set out to document the diverse people and landscapes of the vast Russian Empire. Prokudin-Gorskii planned to produce images that would be used in classrooms, but the widespread exposure he envisioned for his pictures was not to be.

Without an affordable method for mass reproduction and with the upheaval of the Bolshevik Revolution, the photographs languished until the entire collection, including nearly 2,000 glass negatives, was purchased by the Library of Congress in 1948. But they too were unable to find a suitable way to present Prokudin-Gorskii’s work until nearly 100 years after they were taken—when digital equipment allowed the library to scan all 1,902 negatives and restore Prokudin-Gorskii’s pictures to their original color.

“His cutting-edge technology met our internet and digitizing cutting-edge technology in just an almost perfect cycle,” said Helena Zinkham, chief of the Prints and Photographs Division of the LOC.

Made public through the LOC’s website beginning in 2001, Prokudin-Gorskii’s digitally restored photographs were shared over the web and featured in a number of small exhibitions around the world. People were drawn, Zinkham believes, as much by the format of the pictures as the content.

“It is as rare as hen’s teeth to have color photography from that era,” said Zinkham. “So it just knocks peoples’ socks off, even if you have no direct connection to Russia.”

Among those who discovered Prokudin-Gorskii’s pictures online was Robert Klanten, the publisher of German publishing company Gestalten. “I saw a couple of these photographs and I was immediately in love with them,” said Klanten. This October, Gestalten will release Nostalgia: The Russian Empire of Czar Nicholas II Captured in Color Photographs, which will feature 283 of Prokudin-Gorskii’s works.

Combing through the entire Prokudin-Gorskii collection, Gestalten’s editorial team was particularly drawn to the portraits and scenes from daily life—many of which were shot in a ‘snapshot’ style despite the three-second exposures necessary to create them.

The pictures themselves cover a remarkable range—both geographically and in subject matter. Portraits were taken against backdrops that range from lush Siberian forests to neatly planted fields to a dank and crumbling prison yard in Turkestan. Even simple scenes—a train track cutting through a rock-strewn landscape or mine workers filling horse-drawn carts—are striking when you realize they portray a land on the verge of revolution, both industrial and political. It is even more appropriate, then, that Prokudin-Gorskii captured these scenes with a groundbreaking photographic method.

“Most people think of the past as something that happened in black and white,” said Klanten. The use of color, combined with Prokudin-Gorskii’s less-formal style was revolutionary in photography, according to Klanten. “The way he approached the whole thing is kind of a precursor to modern photography…it is almost a democratic approach to photography.”

Nostalgia: The Russian Empire of Czar Nicholas II Captured in Color Photographs will be released in the U.S. by Gestalten in October. 

You can explore the entire Prokudin-Gorskii collection at the Library of Congress

The Darkroom: Nostalgia for a Dying Craft

The thought that most photographers working today will no longer, or will never, step foot in a traditional analog darkroom is remarkable for me. So much of the public imagination historically (and cinematically) with “photography” has been tied to the image of a man or woman hunched over trays of liquid watching an image appear on paper while enshrouded by the warm, amber glow of a safelight. Will that collective image ever be replaced with one of someone sliding a cursor along a histogram while bathed in the cool glow of a Macintosh monitor? Adam Bartos’s new book from Steidl Darkroom sheds some white light on the dying craft of analog printmaking and the environments that have produced most of the medium’s greatest images.

©Steidl—Adam Bartos

The cover of Adam Bartos’s new book from Darkroom.

Bartos is a photographer of the generation where working in a darkroom was a natural extension of the artist’s process and although I suspected this book to be a kind of lament to their near extinction, Bartos himself has been making digital prints of his work for over a decade.

“I’ve never thought that spending time in a darkroom makes for a better (or worse) photographer. That’s a matter of choice and process…The difference might be that I make distinctions about prints because I have a feeling for them as objects with history. Those of us who have spent time in darkrooms may be more likely to share that experience, but I hope that photographers who haven’t will be interested in what the possibilities of printmaking are before thoughtlessly accepting the standard product. It’s quite easy to make a digital print that looks alright, but it’s still very difficult to make one that is beautiful and expressive.”

Bartos’s still-lifes describe how darkrooms are part laboratory and part personal spaces – lived in and decorated with talismans; a ball compass hangs from a safelight fixture, old test prints and penciled notations are left pinned to walls, layers of dust coat unused equipment. (I recall reading a story about the American photographer Garry Winogrand and his darkroom enlarger upon which hung several items including an old bow-tie and a string of rosary beads. When asked about these things he simply replied, “They can’t hurt.”)

I have spent most of my life as a printer in such environs so the first few images bring a flood of memories from the last twenty-five years: Printing in Helen Buttfield’s ancient darkroom above the old Irving Klaw Studio where Betty Page was often photographed at 212 East 14th street; Trying to print on GAF photo-paper that had expired in 1968 – the same year I was born; My printing teacher Sid Kaplan pouring his hot coffee into the developer tray because the chemistry was “too cold”; Coming home to find a pigeon sitting on my film drying lines in my improvised darkroom in my 35th street tenement apartment. Discovering my cat Bun-Bun had once again used one of my 16X20 developing trays as a litter box. Having my exhaust fan tumble out of my window and somehow shatter my downstairs neighbor’s window. The shrill beep of my Gra-lab enlarger timer as it counted down: 5, 4, 3, 2…

Adam Bartos’s Darkroom is available from Steidl this now.

Jeffrey Ladd is a photographer, writer, editor and founder of Errata Editions.

Shooting (Color) Blind: Matthew Gamber’s Still Lifes

A bunch of green bananas, a solitary flourescent bulb and the pie-shaped pieces of a Trivial Pursuit Game. These are the subjects of photographer Matthew Gamber’s latest collection of still lifes, titled “Any Color You Like.” The objects Gamber photographed were chosenfor their distinct and recognizable colorsa decision that appears to be in conflict with the presentation of the series as stark black-and-white prints.

The decision to print in black and white was meant, Gamber said, to challenge how people understand what they see. By using these different processes, and to try to look at certain subjects, it’s just to call attention to things that we take for granted in terms of seeing.

The inspiration for the project came while Gamber was teaching at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He discovered that a student in his color photography class was colorblind. He didn’t look at color as colorhe looked at it as value, Gamber said. He looked at it as a lack of contrast or a lack of clarity.”

The realization that his student was manipulating color, while only being able to see in tones of gray, led Gamber to create photographs that mimicked this experience. He began by shooting objects from pop-culture that were easily recognizable: a pair of 3D glasses and a Lite-Brite toy, for instance. He wanted to play with ideas of perception by removing the most recognizable feature from his subjects, their color.

I wanted it to be something that felt just out of reach, he says. I think the success of this relies on what the viewers expectations are.

As the project progressed, Gamber moved on to more subtle imagery. seo marketing . A shot of ornately patterned wallpaper in a Boston brownstone references Bauhaus-era color theory that influenced the industrial production of wallpaper in the 1930s, Gamber explained. An image of a display of North American birds took on more meaning when Gamber learned that the birds feathers do not have their own color, but rather, are able to reflect certain light spectrums.

In addition to thinking about color, Gamber wanted his photographs to play with ideas of timelessness. I wanted to shoot in a way that it looks like it could have been shot yesterday, but it also looks like it was shot in the 1940s or the 1950s, said Gamber. There is something about how when you photograph something in black and white, it gets locked in that timeframe where it just becomes obsolete as an everyday seeing experience.

Gamber spent two years on Any Color You Like, which recently won The Curator award from Photo District News and will be featured in Brooklyns Photoville show this month. All of the photographs were shot on color film or as color digital captures. The negatives and color files were then converted to black and white negatives and printed as traditional silver gelatin black-and-white prints in a darkroom.

Working on this project has influenced the way Gamber thinks about color in both his photography and his life. He has started bringing color blindness tests into the classes he teaches at various colleges in Boston. He has also, Gamber said with a chuckle, become a more color-coordinated dresser.

I can see that much more now, said Gamber I’m more aware of how we are more emotionally charged by certain colors.

Matthew Gamber is a Boston-based photographer. His photos will be featured in Brooklyn’s Photoville festival from June 22-July 1.

In the Factory of Dreams: Behind the Scenes on Telenovelas

A woman in a white shirt poses seductively on a plush bed. Across the hall, a handsome doctor stands tall, stethoscope hung loosely around his neck. No, this isn’t a scene from Fifty Shades of Gray. It’s the stage set of the hotbed of telenovela production at the Televisa Studios in Mexico City—and the subject of a new photography collection named after it: The Factory of Dreams by San Francisco native artist Stefan Ruiz.

Televisa, the largest Spanish-language broadcaster in the world, produces nearly 50,000 hours-worth of telenovelas each year and exports them to about 50 countries. These soap operas hold a central place in Latin culture, arguably far more than their mainstream American counterparts. Ruiz had rare access to photograph the stars and sets of Televisa’s telenovelas for the past eight years.

Ruiz says he saw actors, sets and lighting as a fresh lens to examine issues of race, class and beauty that he’d previously examined with traditional documentary portraiture. “I was interested in the various types [of actors], and in how the definitions of beauty and class are often defined by race,” he explained in the book. “Generally, the stars look European. The maids do not. And the villains vary.”

The sets also provided Ruiz an ideal space to explore the concept of fame. “It was interesting that many of the telenovela actors were huge stars in much of the world, but virtually unknown in the U.S. and northern Europe,” he said.

Ruiz’s collection captures the stars in the moments between their public and personal lives. He exposes the “seams between fiction and reality” as an essayist in his book put it. Yes, his audience may enjoy the brief telenovela vignettes that accompany the photos. But fans will almost certainly love Ruiz’s subtle glimpse into the private lives of their stars.

So what did Ruiz find most fascinating about his close proximity to these stars? For one, the Televisa system resembled old-time Hollywood. The soaps were filmed quickly and big-name actors were on set much of the time. “Once I had access from Televisa, the stars were generally pretty accessible and were almost always up to being photographed as long as time permitted,” he says. “There were no agents or publicists on set.” The actors themselves were actually fairly down-to-Earth. “For years the film industry in Mexico was almost dead, and this was the only steady acting work around,” Ruiz notes. “I got the feeling that they were appreciative of their jobs.”

Stefan Ruiz is a photographer and San Francisco native. More of his work can be seen here. The book Factory of Dreams will be published June, 2012, by Aperture.

A Natural Order by Lucas Foglia

From urban beekeeping to artisanal pickling, there’s an uptick in America’s interest in doing it ourselves. Photographer Lucas Foglia has been in touch with this pre-consumer age mindset his entire life, having grown up on a small Long Island farm where, he says, his family “heated our house with wood, farmed and canned our food, and bartered the plants we grew for everything from shoes to dental work.” For the past five years the Yale-trained artist has been photographing a network of off-the-gird communities in the southeastern United States. The work has just been published in a lush, large-format monograph, A Natural Order.

Tucked away in the woods and fields of rural Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia, some of the communities Foglia visited are religious, others are united by a passion for embracing ancestral ways of hunting, foraging and building, others are motivated by predictions of global economic collapse.

Foglia’s subjects live with equal measure grit and beauty. In one photo, a toddler in a grubby, winged fairy dress reclines on a quilt and gazes at the sky, a gnawed venison rib clutched in one hand. In another, a salvaged sink is propped on boards, and tucked into edenic bramble. His photos of interiors highlight their simple rustic allure, is if shot for a high-end design magazine for survivalists. A bathroom painted in a hip shade of teal features an abundance of fluffy monogrammed towels, pillar candles on a rough-hewn pedestal; in the claw-foot tub a butchered deer soaks, the seeping haunches surrounded in watermelon-pink bathwater.

The stories of what compelled any given individual to pursue this experience are untold in A Natural Order. Instead, through Foglia’s keen eye for detail and tremendous sense of composition, we simply get a glimpse of their way of life. However, clothing—or, alternatively, the lack thereof—clues us in as to which type of group they might belong. There are some long-haired parents and their cherubic children in their natural state. There are those wearing self-styled outfits made of hides and natural fibers. And there are Christian women and girls who wear modest homemade frocks, even in the swimming hole.

The general theme Foglia has taken on has been touched on by other contemporary art photographers over the last ten years, including Justine Kurland, Joel Sternfeld and Taj Forer. However, Foglia is particularly interested in the way these communities straddle the ancestral and the modern, as his own family did. “They do not wholly reject the modern world. Instead, they step away from it and choose the parts that they want to bring with them,” says Foglia of his subjects. Interested readers can even ferret out the websites of some of the communities he includes, and find themselves tempted to go there and take classes on traditional building or foraging for food. One can also gain insight—and learn real skills— from, Wildifoodin’ the anonymously –authored, illustrated ‘zine included with the book. Part journal, part survival manual, it reads like a poet’s version of the Whole Earth Catalog, the bible for 1970’s back-to-the-landers.

Foglia’s book implies that there is a new movement afoot, one whose philosophies are diverse, but all share self-reliance as a key value. If so, it’s right on time, economically speaking. In an era when houses can be foreclosed, and most of our food is from unknown sources, the beauty that Foglia’s pictures captures is a recognition of human needs: the needs to create, and to control our destinies.

A Natural Order is published by Nazraeli Press. You can see more of Lucas Foglia’s work here.

Joanna Lehan is a writer and curator living in New York City.

Kimiko Yoshida

           “The preoccupation with ‘I’ has become a cliché in contemporary art,” says Japanese photographer Kimiko Yoshida.  For over a decade, she has created large, color photos of herself in which she wears elaborate costumes that reference a wide range of subjects, from haute couture to indigenous cultures to the canon of Western painting to the Zen minimalism of her own culture.  By constantly changing what at first appears to be a self-portrait, “I am basically saying that there is no such thing as a self-portrait. Each of these photographs is actually a ceremony of disappearance. It is not an emphasis of identity, but the opposite, an erasure of identity.”
Born in Tokyo in 1963, Yoshida came of age in a tradition-bound culture where the attitude towards the role of women left her alienated and unhappy. She studied literature and worked in fashion.  It allowed her to hone her eye, but she remained frustrated.  Despite her father’s objections, she enrolled in the Tokyo College of Photography.  Even with her degree in hand, she felt her options for a creative career in Japan were limited. She knew she had to escape the stifling confines of her life and she decided to move to France. (restricted constricted circumscribed limited stifling )
“Since I fled my homeland to escape the mortifying servitude and humiliating fate of Japanese women,” Yoshida says, “I amplified through my art a feminist stance of protest against contemporary clichés of seduction, against voluntary servitude of women, against ‘identity’ defined by appurtenances,”—or accessories—“and ‘communities,’ against the stereotypes of ‘gender’ and the determinism of heredity.” Yoshida came to think of the notion of a solid, permanent self as a “fantasy.”  She quotes the Freudian psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, “The ego is constructed like an onion: one could peel it and discover the successive identifications which have constituted it.”  There is no Kimiko, Kimiko is saying: “the being is pitted; it has no central core.”
Yoshida critiques the idea of a firm and unchanging identity in a variety of ways, most obviously by changing it.  In her “Brides” series, she often photographs herself in indigenous garb from around the world that she borrows from museums.  In her “Paintings” series, she and her husband repurpose items from the archives of Spanish fashion designer Paco Rabanne.  No matter what the source material is, Yoshida riddles the final product with playful anachronisms and cross-cultural references that undermine its perceived authenticity.  The Paco Rabanne garments and accessories, made between 1965 and 2000, are themselves full of unusual materials, from plastic bottles to CD-roms.  Yoshida adds a twist by refusing to wear them as intended: shoes become headdresses, dresses become hats, etc.  Yet another twist comes when you realize that Yoshida’s odd remixes actually reference paintings from Western art history, from Caravaggio to Picasso to Warhol.  And she places these figures, which often display a baroque opulence, against featureless backgrounds that recall the minimalism of Zen art.

Yoshida not only changes her identity, but she does it a lot—she’s made over 300 of these elaborate, time-consuming images since 2000.  No one character appears to get special treatment: they are all centered in square frames and afforded only a single photograph each.  What individuality that may remain often threatens to bleed into oblivion, as many of her images, such as “The Capricious Girl,” are nearly monochromatic.  Her makeup doesn’t enliven or articulate her character, as in the West, but rather effaces it, as in the tradition of the Japanese geisha.  Ultimately, Kimiko the person disappears behind these suspect masks into a wall of color.

           Cindy Sherman is another artist who dons costumes in front of the camera and who even references art history like Yoshida.  But while Sherman’s post-modernism feels ironic and satirical, and her craft intentionally clumsy, Yoshida’s work feels solemn and majestic, and her craft highly polished. And while the meanings of Sherman’s work reside in its flimsy surfaces, Yoshida’s work provides the artist with an internal, metaphysical space to metamorphose.  “Art is above all the experience of transformation,” explains Yoshida. “All that’s not me, that’s what interests me. To be there where I think I am not, to disappear where I think I am, that is what matters.”  In the end, perhaps the photographs themselves are simply evidence of this performance.  But it is interesting that Yoshida, an artist who is driven by the denial of the self, has made them with such a singular and memorable voice.

In the end, the photographs themselves are simply evidence of this performance.  It is interesting that Yoshida, an artist who is driven by the denial of the self, speaks with such a singular and memorable voice.

Yoshida has solo shows at St. Jakobshalle in Basel, Switzerland, and the Musée Pavillion Vendôme-Dobler in Aix-en-Provence, France, both opening June 13.  Her work is also in a group show at the Musée de la Tapisserie in Angers, France that opens June 29. More of her work can be seen here.

Myles Little is an associate photo editor at TIME.

Boston Week: Meg Birnbaum

While I am enjoying the Focus Awards hosted by the Griffin Museum and the Flash Forward Festival hosted by the Magenta Foundation in Boston this week, I am re-running some earlier posts about Boston photographers, including Meg Birnbaum.


I first met Meg Birnbaum as part of the toy camera community a number of years ago. Her toy camera series, Corn Dogs, Blue Ribbons and the American Pastoral, featuring summer fairs in New England, has been well celebrated and exhibited. 

Cow Girl 

Over the years I had the great pleasure of sending time with Meg at various portfolio reviews and photo events and have appreciated her friendship and support.  She is a thoughtful person and photographer–the kind of person who is a great observer, sensitive to her subjects on levels that are not always obvious at first glance. Her empathy, compassion, and caring allow her to see another layer of humanity that is so important to being a great photographer.



Her new project, Person/Persona, is a departure into straight color photography, with a twist of subject matter. The series reflects our ability to have more than one persona, one that is often a surprising juxtaposition to a seemingly ordinary life. Meg lives Somerville, MA and exhibited widely including shows in Japan and at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Massachusetts.


Person/PersonaIf, as Mark Twain wrote, clothes make the man, then costumes allow us to instantly convey something more about ourselves than is ordinarily apparent. Costumes give us permission to alter our behavior, to explore other personalities and lifestyles, and to bring wholy new and original identities to life.


Charlotte is a puppet maker and cofounder of the 50’s style Stiletto Singers.

‘Person/persona’ is a series of diptych portraits exploring the transformative power of costume-wearing and the creation of alter egos. These people have chosen to live some of their life, in public, in character and in costume. I visited each subject on two different days, taking two environmental portraits that explore the subject in persona costume and again in street clothes.

Donna is a wife, mother & underwater escape artist, Alexanderia the Great

Some of these personae are the individuals’ original creations, some are familiar historical figures, some appear only on paper, and some only on stage. I found each person, one at a time, by reading local papers, attending historical reenactments, going to performances, talking to friends, and internet searches.

Civitron, father, artist & costumed activist is leader of the Heroic 100

Each person was invited to write a paragraph or two about the chain of events that led to their particular choice of persona and about the impact it has had in their lives. Some people have shared inspiring stories of overcoming very personal struggles, and most feel that costumes have been the bridge to a changed, more fulfilled and happier life.

Living historian Jim Cooke portrays 4 famous men, here he embodies John Q. Adams

When I first started working on this project, I thought that I was simply fascinated with performers performing. I hoped that I might discover the unifying element that these people have in their personal makeup that I do not have and which enables them to take such risks in public. I was hoping that some of that might rub off on me. That has not happened yet, although I continue to work on it, however this project has unwittingly became a positive lesson for me in the infinite ways of finding community and building personal connections.

Johnny Blazes; drag king, performer and gender-blending comedian

Dr. Forgeng is sword play teacher & curator at Higgins Armory Museum

Aliza Shapiro is an events producer and creator of Heywood Wakefield

Yoga enthusiast Jan Turnquist, historic interpreter, portraying Louisa M. Alcott

Married performers Jill Gibson & Karin Webb created Mary & Michael Dolan

Published writer Edrie is accordionist in the art band ‘ARmy of BRoken TOys’

Shared Vision: A Conversation with Sondra Gilman, Celso Gonzalez-Falla, and Mitch Epstein

Flag, 2000 (c) Mitch Epstein

In the mid-70s, Mitch Epstein was exhibiting some of his earliest work, some of the images first to elevate color photography into the realm of fine art, joining the ranks of Stephen Shore and William Eggleston. Right around that time, Sondra Gilman, who, along with her husband Celso Gonzalez-Falla, has been repeated ranked among the top photo collectors in the world by ARTnews, purchased her first photograph.

She had “tripped over a [Eugène] Atget show” at MoMA, she tells New York Social Diary in an interview (accompanied by dozens of images of the collection at home in their Upper East Side townhouse), and “literally had an epiphany.” She ended up buying three $250 prints at a time when photographs “had no value.” Since then, the couple’s collection has grown to several hundred vintage prints, and their value, surely to no one’s surprise today, has grown astronomically.

Marcelle Polednik, Director MOCA Jacksonville, Celso Gonzalez-Falla and Sondra Gilman at a walkthrough of Shared Vision during Aperture’s Armory Brunch 2012.

On Wednesday, April 11, 2012 Aperture Foundation presents a conversation with Gilman and Gonzalez-Falla alongside Epstein, whose work features prominently in the Shared Vision collection (at Aperture through April 21, 2012). This ambitious exhibition, organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Jacksonville, curated by Ben Thompson and Paul Karabinis, brings together their most iconic images reflecting the diverse nature of an entire century of photography. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by MOCA and produced by Aperture, including historical context for each image and photographer as well as curatorial remarks.

Epstein, who won the Prix Pictet in 2011, the Berlin Prize in Arts and Letters in 2008, and the Kraszna-Krausz Photography Book Award in 2004, also appears in the New York Times Magazine Photographs, edited by Kathy Ryan, and Aperture issue 168. A former student of Garry Winogrand at Cooper Union in the early ’70s, his work has since landed in the collections of the MoMA, the Whitney, the Getty Museum, SFMOMA, and Tate Modern in London. While his projects often start as independent explorations or excursions, he has a strong inclination to “engage with issues beyond self-reflexive ones,” he tells BOMB in a lengthy interview about how some of his latest projects including American Power, progressed from an editorial assignment, to a print series, to a book.

Watch a great video shot at Tate Modern of Epstein discussing his latest series and exploring what makes a strong photograph. Check out photos from our the walkthrough of the Shared Vision exhibition with Marcelle Polednik, Director of MOCA Jacksonville and the collectors, and the VIP walkthrough during last weekend’s AIPAD Photography Show. And find images of the installation as well as an index of the work on view at DLK Collection.

Shared Vision: A Conversation with Sondra Gilman, Celso Gonzalez-Falla, and Mitch Epstein
Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 6:30 pm
FREE

Aperture Gallery and Bookstore
547 West 27th Street, 4th Floor
New York, New York
(212) 505-5555