Returning to Color Photography

 New York City

New York City

In high school photography class, back in the really old days where everyone shot film and used the darkroom (actually, access to the darkroom was why many people took photography), I met a friend who developed his transparencies and printed Cibachromes. I was instantly smitten. Ciba prints had this garish pop to them that rivaled the later Velvia film, and the colors just seemed more alive than prints made from any other process. They were also more archival. Oddly enough, I tended to print my Cibas down, so that the colors softer and more sedate, which gave them a contemplative feel.

In those years I was influenced by Robert Farber, Art Kane, Jay Maisel, Pete Turner, David Hamilton, Joel Meyerowitz, and others known for the highly saturated colors in their images or the grainy look. Farber was my strongest influence, particularly his book Moods, which was my bible. I started shooting with a UV filter coated with hairspray and pushing my Ektachrome two stops to achieve the same painterly look that he had. I loved the look.

 New York City

New York City

With the passing of time, I moved away from photography. When I returned, I shot black and white large format film in the Group f/64 style, an entirely different approach from my high school years. This approach continued for some time until it was no longer tenable. The large format camera acted as an invitation for people to interrupt me while I worked, and I found it nearly impossible to mentally focus and photograph, even when photographing in remote areas. So I gave up photography, sold my large format gear, and walked away.

But I didn’t walk far. Photography remained on my mind, and I continued to shoot with my iPhone 8, which is a surprisingly competent camera, though seeing the screen to compose in bright sunlight can be a challenge, and I thought that snapshots with the iPhone would satisfy me. Then I saw exhibitions by William Eggleston and Stephen Shore (the first time I’d seen original prints by either), and I knew I needed to return to photography. Eggleston’s dye transfer prints glowed on the wall, while Stephen Shore’s C-prints had a matter-of-fact quality to them that wasn’t matter-of-fact at all. I couldn’t help but see the brilliance in both artist’s work, and it was at that moment that I knew that I not only would return to photography but return to color. 

 The Museum of Natural History, NY

The Museum of Natural History, NY

Of course, contemporary photographers don't have to choose color, since digital cameras give the option of outputting in it or black and white. But I’m always guided by Brett Weston’s notion that too many choices create, rather than solve, problems (he was speaking specifically of lenses, but I think the broader principal also applies. He was always a fan of keeping photography as simple as possible). So, to learn or relearn color, I knew I had to commit to color. 

How long will it take me to find my "color eye"? I don’t know, but I’ve already started.

 Glass Beach, Ft. Bragg, CA

Glass Beach, Ft. Bragg, CA