Posts Tagged ‘colour’

John Pfahl (1939-2020)

Monday, May 25th, 2020

I was interested to read the appreciation of the work of John Pfahl by photographer, photo critic and historian Bruno Chalifour published by A D Coleman as a guest post on his Photocritic International web site, not just for the information it gives about Pfahl who died in April, a victim of Covid-19, and his work but also for its insight into some of the political aspects of photography and photographic history.

Although I’ve been aware of the work of John Pfahl more or less since I first started my serious interest in photography in the 1970s when I think I first came across his work in the pages of one of the US magazines, probably Popular Photography, he wasn’t a photographer who particularly inspired me, perhaps because I found his work a little academic. So although I have books with his pictures in, particularly Sally Euclaire’s ‘ The New Color Photography’ (1981). I didn’t buy a copy of his Altered Landscapes also published that same year by The Friends of Photography, and have failed to acquire any of his later publications.

Chalifour talks about the “Rochester camp of photography“, to which Pfahl belonged, being in opposition to the MoMa school around its curator from 1962-91 John Szarkowski: “Szarkowski — still echoed nowadays by non-rigorous if not lazy art critics, curators, photo historians and researchers — did not consider that there was any serious color fine-art photography before the William Eggleston show he mounted there in 1976.” But Pfahl studied on the “first graduate-level program in color photography in America” gaining his MA at Syracuse University in 1968.

Of course there was serious colour photography even before that, including by a number of European photographers (who certainly didn’t count either in New York or Rochester.) But it was still true for most of us at the time that real photography was black and white, and while there were books largely for amateurs on colour photography, my own real training in the medium came from Johannes Itten‘s The Art of Color, published in 1961 based on his teaching at the Bauhaus, a copy of which I found in the 70s in my local library (many years before the cuts.)

Chalifour also mentions another Rochester linked problem, in that “Most of Pfahl’s work until the 1990s was printed on Ektacolor paper” and is thus showing signs of fading. The George Eastman Museum apparently has two sets of his major series, one for display, research and exhibition, and the other kept in the dark in cold storage. Kodak’s colour materials were notoriously fugitive, and having read the research many of us switched to Fuji in the 1980s. Some of his work was printed by the expensive but much more stable dye-transfer process. Pfahl was also an early adopter of digital printing, using the Iris/Giclée process for projects in the 1990s.


As I go through my own old slides, produced from around 1970 to 1985, I’m painfully aware of the limitations of older colour processes, with many images faded beyond repair and others requiring time-consuming restoration and much digital tidying to remove ingrained spots and mould. Fortunately images taken on Kodachrome have survived well, but Kodak’s card mounts are a problem, producing stray fibres and dust around the edges as well as masking too much of the image. I should put them in proper mounts before re-photographing them but it takes too long. Fortunately much of the pictures towards the end of this period before I switched to colour negative were made on Fuji films.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr


Regents Canal 200

Sunday, April 19th, 2020

For various reasons it took rather longer than expected to build the Regent’s Canal around the north of London, joining the Grand Union Canal Paddington Arm to the River Thames at Limehouse, but the full length was finally opened in 1820, two hundred years ago this year.

Having realised this anniversary was approaching, early in 2019 I began a series of pictures to celebrate it, and had been intending to present these in a small show I was to have along with an artist friend, Hilary Rosen, at the Street Gallery in University College Hospital London.

The show was to have opened on 19th March this year, but a few days before we realised that it would be impossible because of the Coronavirus pandemic. We had to cancel the opening, but then it became clear to us that it would not be sensible to invite people to go to a hospital to look at an exhibition, and told the gallery that it had to be postponed. A few days later, the government realised they had to do something too, and on March 23 imposed the lockdown.

I’d picked just a dozen images for this show, but had taken hundreds if not thousands in preparation. I’d had the pictures printed and had spent a day mounting and framing them on the Sunday before the show was to start, but simply had to take them back up into my loft rather than to be hung at the gallery.

In making my selection I’d obviously wanted to show what I thought were the best images, but also to show work along the length of the canal from its start at Little Venice to its end at Regent’s Canal Dock (now Limehouse Dock marina.) My preliminary selection included several images from some of the more interesting areas, as well as a few from other places that didn’t make the final cut.

Rather than go back and make a new selection for an on-line presentation I’ve decided to simply put the 42 from my preliminary selection on-line, and to do so on Flickr, where they are displayed at a higher resolution than on Facebook or my own web site (where I think most or all have already appeared at smaller size.)

The images appear in two different aspect ratios, though they all have more or less the same horizontal angle of view, roughly equivalent to the full human binocular field of clear vision. Some are cropped at top and bottom, enabling me to move the horizon away from the centre line and to avoid the more extreme curvature at the edges which the necessary non-rectilinear perspective needed for such extreme angles of view dictates.

You can see them at Regents Canal 200 on Flickr.

C-type prints from the exhibition were to be on sale unframed and printed with images 42×22 cm or 36×24 cm (and a white border) at £200. For this online show they can be ordered direct from 6me at half this price, £100, including postage and packing to the UK. Overseas orders will cost a little more.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

Scanning London

Monday, March 30th, 2020
TQ1985

A few months back I was lying prone inside a giant metal tube on a flat bed which moved me slowly backwards as successive slices across my body were scanned for the purposes of research, and the CT scan reminded me of a project on London which I began in the 1980s.

Nowadays we are all familiar with the idea of geotagging and some cameras can add geotags to the Exif date as you photograph, while gadgets can be fixed onto other cameras to add the data. Smartphones do the same, as they always track you position. The web site https://www.geograph.org.uk Geograph was set up in 2005 to “collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland” and so far 13,114 contributors have submitted 6,397,064 images covering 280,384 of the 1km grid squares, still leaving around 15% should you wish to strike new ground.

TQ2083

I’ve occasionally added geotags to my own landscape pictures in Lightroom, using a free little phone app by one of my sons, ‘Easy GPS Logger’ which records GPS location and time data to a file. You load this into LR along with the pictures, match up any one of them with a particular place on a map and LR then uses the file to add the information to the other pictures. There are only two problems – remembering to turn on the logger at the start of your walk, and secondly to turn it off when you finish!

TQ1982

Back in 1986, the only way to add location data to your photographs was by hand, using a map to find the grid reference. Of course you had to know where you were to do so. I had the idea of doing a series of South to North cross-sections of London based on the Eastings and Northings of the National Grid using colour negative film.

Rather than attempting a series of south-north walks, I simply took a camera with colour negative film on more normal walks while I was photographing London in black and white, then sent the films for processing and printing 6×4″ enprints. When these came back from processing I’d sort out those I wanted to keep and use a map to find the grid references and add these and the date with a technical pen along the lower edge of the print. The date meant (at least in theory) I could find the negatives in my files.

TQ1683

At first I glued the prints onto card sheets to file them under the grid reference in a set of A4 files, but this soon became tedious and I bought filing sheets which held 8 prints, four on each side. Each of the kilometre grid squares had its own filing sheet, and some soon had several, with the series expanding to fill around a dozen A4 files. Each file holds around 50 double-sided sheets and so could hold around 400 prints, though many sheets are not full, so the project probably has around 3,000 or 4,000 prints.

TQ1978

Of course what was more important were the scenes I chose to photograph. I carried in my wallet a reminder of things I was interested in photographing (an idea picked up from reading a list made by Walker Evans), in a small zipped pocket together with a folded £20 note for emergencies. Of course colour was important, not just for itself, but as an illustration of how and why colour was used, and I had a great interest in representations of people and things, in ethnic differences and in the evolution and fashion of colour.

I can’t remember exactly when I ended the project, though it certainly continued well into the 1990s. But at some point I stopped sending colour negative film to be processed and began developing it myself, and producing enprints wasn’t really an option. Instead I made 8×10″ contact prints and worked from these, producing very many fewer but larger prints.

TQ2080

Over the years I’ve probably published or shown only around a hundred of these pictures, the largest group from 1986-90 in the book dummy and web site ‘Café Ideal, Cool Blondes, and Paradise

As with my black and white images of London, this is a body of work which I think has a great deal of historical interest as well as some photographic interest and it would be good to see it in some permanent museum or similar collection rather than simply gathering dust on my shelves.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

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Stephen Shore small camera

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020

Stephen Shore is one of the photographers featured in Sally Eauclaire’s ‘The New Color Photography‘ published in 1981, though I had seen his work a few years earlier, certainly in Modern Photography magazine and possibly elsewhere. He also featured among the ‘New Topographics’ featured in the presentation by Lewis Baltz at his workshop I went to. Euclaire’s book certainly can be described as seminal, a significant milestone in the acceptability of colour photography as a serious medium for photographic artists – and perhaps more importantly for museums to collect and galleries to sell.

Of course colour in photography was not new. The first photographs had been taken in colour over a hundred years previously with technical demonstrations by James Clerk Maxwell and Louis Ducos du Hauron, and since the early days of the Daguerreotype colour had been added to photographs by hand. Autochrome, the first fully practical single plate additive colour processes was introduced commercially in 1907, and both Kodak and Agfa marketed their subtractive processes which were the basis of modern colour film photography in 1936.

Colour became used increasingly in some commercial photography from the 1950s on, and increasingly by amateurs in the 1960s. Its use by photojournalists was restricted not by the availability of film but by the huge bulk of publications still being printed in black and white for cost reasons, but as magazines changed it became more common.

I took one or two colour films (perhaps one per summer holiday) before I could afford to go seriously into photography, but when that became possible, partly because I was earning money rather than being a penniless student, it was also because I had learnt how to do photography on the cheap, loading cassettes from bulk film, developing and printing my own work – largely on surplus and often out-of-date paper. Colour was still expensive in comparison, though later I learnt to use bulk colour film and develop it myself, using cheaper alternatives to Kodak’s E3 and later E4 and E6 chemicals.

Kodachrome in some ways remained the gold standard, or rather the yellow box standard, but a film that was impossible to home process and which remained expensive to use. So though I used the occasional roll (mainly for those holiday snaps) and was fortunate enough to win a brick of the stuff in a magazine competition, largely I worked with cheaper films which could be brought in 50 or 100ft tins.

But certainly back in the 70s I was serious about colour, even if I took fewer colour pictures than black and white, and if the results weren’t always particularly successful. I studied colour, not in an art school but at home with books such as Johannes Itten’s ‘The Art of Color’, first published in 1920 when he was leading the “preliminary course” at the Bauhaus:

Itten theorized seven types of color contrast and devised exercises to teach them. His color contrasts include[d] (1) contrast by hue, (2) contrast by value, (3) contrast by temperature, (4) contrast by complements  (neutralization), (5) simultaneous contrast (from Chevreuil), (6) contrast by saturation (mixtures with gray), and (7) contrast by extension (from Goethe).”

David Burton, quoted by Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Itten

When I went to teach in a sixth form college in 1980 I found the art students there carrying out exactly the same exercises devised by Itten.

So while I appreciated the colour portfolios that were published in Euclaire’s book I reacted rather negatively to the suggestions that this was the beginning of serious colour photography – and I think we are now much more aware of earlier colour work than was then the case.

I began thinking about Stephen Shore and ‘The New Color Photography’ on reading an article online at The Guardian by Sean O’Hagan, Stephen Shore: ‘People would chase me off their lawns with my Leica’. Although Shore became well-known for the work he made in colour with a 10×8 camera, he was also carrying a Leica with him. It’s an interesting article that tells me more about the photographer, though I don’t think it illuminates his work in any respect for me, but perhaps may for those coming to him anew.

I’ve not yet seen the book, Transparencies: Small Camera Works 1971-1979 which is published on March 5th, but the preview suggests it is rather more interesting than the small selection of images illustrating The Guardian article.


Colour or B/W?

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

I’m trying hard to remember when I last took a black and white picture, and I think it must be more than ten years ago, though I do still have a few rolls waiting to be processed.

I spent around thirty years taking most of my pictures in black and white (though I often also worked in colour) . Many if not most of my favourite images, both my own work and that of other photographers is in black and white, but somehow I no longer feel any urge to work in black and white.

It would of course be easy to do so. A simple click of a mouse would convert the images taken in any of my digital cameras from colour to monochrome, but it’s something I dislike doing. Occasionally I’ve carried out this conversion, in the past using specialised Photoshop plugins (though now Lightroom has some good monochrome profiles built in) but generally only when my colour pictures are going to be reproduced in black and white – when I prefer to make my own conversions rather than leave it to others.

When I made the mistake of buying a Leica M8, there were some occasions where the colour was simply so wrong as to be unusable (though I spent hours trying to put it right with various software programs) and the only way to use pictures were as black and white. And while it was a lousy colour camera, it was actually pretty good as a black and white camera and perhaps I should have kept it for that. Later of course Leica did produce a monochrome model.

With mirrorless cameras you can even view the world in black and white, which might be an interesting way to work, though I’ve yet to try it for more than one or two test exposures. But generally I’m rather averse to converting images taken in colour into black and white and think most people who do so produce work that is unconvincing. You have to think differently to make good monochrome images, try to think tone instead of colour, and pay greater attention to shape, line and form.

I just spent ten minutes or so looking through some of the more interesting pictures I took earlier this year, looking for images that might possibly have worked in black and white, and coming to the conclusion that colour was essential for almost all. For this post I’ve picked a couple that I thought might work as well or better in black and white and made the conversion. I’ll let you judge – and please feel free to comment if you have a strong preference.

I was prompted to write this post by reading one on PetaPixel, What Shooting Film Taught Me About Black-and-White Photos by Ellie Cotton – I think it looks better on her own web site. I actually think all of the pictures in that article look better in colour, though a couple convert reasonably to black and white.


There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, please share on social media.
And small donations via Paypal – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images

Pure Colour

Saturday, May 11th, 2019

I’ve long been something of a fan of Joerg Colberg’s Conscientious Photography Magazine though I often find myself arguing with his opinions and sometimes wondering why on earth he bothered to review some publication. But it’s always good to see some critical thinking about photography, even when I feel he has got it completely wrong.

His review of Pure Country by Bill Sullivan is perhaps a good example of what both interests me and to some extent infuriates me. Colberg begins with a rather interesting discussion of colour in photography, considering 25 reproductions on-line of William Eggleston‘s ‘ The Red Ceiling‘ (aka Greenwood, Mississippi, 1973) a picture that if you have any interest in photography you are doubtless familiar with (click on the link to see a not very convincing version of it on Wikipedia should you need a reminder.)

As Wikipedia reminds us, this is a picture about which Eggleston himself has commented “I’ve never seen it reproduced on the page to my satisfaction” and I suspect he may be even less convinced by most of the reproductions online. As well as viewing it on-screen, I also own various reproductions of it it books and magazines, as well as having viewed the “original”, Eggleston’s approved dye transfer print, at various times in exhibitions.

Colberg reproduces not the picture, but 25 versions of it averaged out into a single colour, with 25 slightly different red tones, and he asks what is the proper colour. Actually in this case the answer is fairly clear, and implied in Eggleston’s answer – it is the colour of the dye transfer print.

And at least dye transfer prints are pretty stable, though they will like anything else look different depending on the illumination they are viewed by. Eggleston went on to talk about the ‘blood-red’ of the original print, so if you want to know what it should look like, you might just prick yourself and compare.

I don’t actually consider Eggleston a good guide to colour. Most of the images in my 1989 copy of ‘The Democratic Forest‘ appear to me to have a colour cast, usually a slight yellow or perhaps pale orange. Many of his actual prints – the C-types rather than the dye-transfers – that I’ve seen in exhibitions seem to have degraded a little over the years even further in that direction, I imagine they were printed on Kodak colour papers which don’t generally age well.

Back in 1985, when I largely moved from colour transparency to colour negative in my work, part of the reason was that Fuji had come out with new and improved colour papers, giving cleaner colour reproduction and promising longer life. They also enabled you to control printing more easily, allowing burning and dodging with no colour shift.

Colour has both a scientific and a subjective, personal and emotional aspect. We can measure accurately in terms of hue, saturation and brightness, look at the spectral distribution of reflected light and use measurements such as these to determine how accurate the reproduction of colour is through particular materials and processes. But accuracy of reproduction isn’t always the goal, and there are always colours which are outside the range of any particular reproduction.

Personally in my own work I like to aim for reasonable colour accuracy and try to avoid any colour casts, though I don’t always succeed. There is always a temptation to make things just a little on the warm side and I normally succumb. I generally don’t like photographs that clearly distort colour, something practicised by some photographers to achieve a personal style.

Colberg goes on to state “Maybe it all comes down to the fact that there really isn’t such a thing as the world in colour. There’s just what you make it look like, plus there are basic facts such as women being able to see more colours than men.

Objectively I think he is wrong, confusing colour as a measurable, physical property describing how objects interact with light, with our subjective experience of colour. What I see in my mind as red or blue may be nothing like what you see as these colours, and we may have very different experiences and emotional reactions to them. We may even use different words to describe them – I often argue with my wife over whether something is blue or green, and while we all still talk about the rainbow having both blue and indigo, it is a distinction that has been lost since someone first coined “Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain”.

Colberg goes on to discuss Bill Sullivan‘s book Pure Country, which I’ve not seen. From his review and the page images on the publishers web site, I suspect it is not something I would like and certainly not something I’d fork out $80 plus shipping for, although the included “74 page pictorial index called the Pure Country Graphic Index 1659-2018 people, countries, color photography, worlds fairs & expositions, paintings, Suprematism & The Bauhaus. The index functions as a graphic timeline of dates, information, and images that inform the book set along an historical timeline with a major focus on the evolution of color image-making and photography spanning the last five centuries” does sound mildly interesting and at least in the couple of pages shown reproduces its images in more or less correct colour, but it appears to lack any real depth that might make it useful.