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Author Topic: eauclair's "The New Color"  (Read 10463 times)


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eauclair's "The New Color"
« on: January 25, 2009, 10:40:52 am »

I have finally gotten around to reading (I am almost 1/2 through it) Sally eauclaire's "The New Color photography" (1981). Has anyone in this forum read it, what are your thoughts on it?



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eauclair's "The New Color"
« Reply #1 on: January 28, 2009, 04:20:43 pm »

Hi there,

I used the book as the basis for an advanced color photography course. We referred to the course as "Big Color". Some of the essays were interesting and useful as jumping off points for class discussion, but others were a bit esoteric. In the course we discussed and put into practice the use of color as the organizing principle for a photograph.

We talked about warm and cool colors as compositional "forces" in a photo - warm colors tending to advance while cool colors tend to recede. Juxtaposing warm and cool colors made for an interesting tension in images (warm colors in the background pushing forward and cool colors in the foreground pulling back).

We used the term "constellations of colors" to describe how the eye might move through an image based on color "events". We discussed the idea of vernacular color (the decisive moment of color - momentary, temporary occurrences of color compositions) and looked at Meyerowitz and some other color street photography from the book. We talked about color formalism as basically image-making predicated primarily on color concerns. We were trying to make images ABOUT color as much as about whatever stuff they depicted.

All these techniques and strategies are a useful way to expand your image-making and helped the students in the class pay more attention to the decisions they were making when photographing. Anything, really, to help move people from picture-takers to conscious image-makers...

I might be able to locate some of the discussion questions I used if you're interested..



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eauclair's "The New Color"
« Reply #2 on: January 30, 2009, 07:42:17 am »

Yes that would be nice, and thank you for the reply. i have not read a "formal" critique photography book for a number of years, and getting back into the language is slow going for me.  


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eauclair's "The New Color"
« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2009, 10:10:39 am »

I didn't read this book, but many years ago I read "Theory of Colours" by JW von Goethe (I have it french, maybe there is an english traduction) wich explain very clearly all shapes and colors forces composition and perception wise. Very scientific and theoric but turn to be some real explanation of some intuitions we can get about all these. Interesting reading, even if I'm against rules in creation, which is more a freedom vision from the heart, not a construction from the brain.


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eauclair's "The New Color"
« Reply #4 on: January 30, 2009, 12:54:44 pm »

Ok. Here's the discussion questions. Some are just questions (and I have little memory of how the class discussion went!), one set has my answers (although there are other answers too!). So here ya go. ps - if this is too long a post, etiquette-wise, please let me know.

Discussion Questions pertaining to Color Formalism:

What is the purpose of reading about photography or reading critical essays in particular?
Why might it be useful to your image making to read essays and critical writing?
What are some strategies you might use to get the most out of an essay?

What are some of your thoughts in general on the subject of color formalism?
What did you think of the essay?

Did you have any questions during the course of the reading? Share any questions you had and come up with one additional discussion questions relating to the essay or the subject of color photography. Discuss these questions and present that discussion to the class.

Page 17

Second paragraph

“Typically, their nonhierarchical compositions reflect many of the same visual principles that govern nonrepresentational painting. Yet photography’s unseverable connection to optical reality makes the modernist ideal of the autonomous artwork elusive, if not impossible.”

What does it mean for an artwork to be autonomous?

Why might a school of thought (modernism) that assumes the existence of and prizes the search for a single, objective truth consider this kind of autonomy ideal?

How does the nature of the photographic medium make achieving this artistic autonomy “elusive, if not impossible”?

Might color photographic formalism be a means to achieve this autonomy? Why or why not?

Page 24

Is only highly saturated color useful in photographs about color? Why?

What might the black and white image equivalent of a color photograph using only highly saturated colors look like?

Page 24 second full paragraph

“In careless cropping, negligent alignments, and imprecise exposures of amateur snapshots, Eggleston recognized potent effects that under his direction could produce mesmerizing contrasts and shifts of conventional emphases.”

How might carefully utilizing many of the elements found in amateur snapshots allow a photographer to produce mesmerizing contrasts and shifts of conventional emphases?

How might that be useful in creating images that are about color (rather than stuff)?

What are some of the strategies discussed in the rest of this paragraph that could be used to move an image away from a description of individual objects towards a collective pictorial cohesion?

Discuss the 3rd full paragraph, paying particular attention to the following:

“Eggleston achieves pictorial cohesion and emphases through contiguous visual relationships that are more specific to his photograph than to the scene itself.”

What does this mean?

How do you make relationships between different, unrelated objects in an image stronger than they are in reality?

Why is it useful when making color photographic formalist images to subvert the intelligibility of spatial relationships and the individuality of objects?

Page 26

2nd full paragraph

“…modern painting – where color is a fundamental, structural force – contains the most significant precedents for the strategies employed by the best contemporary color photographic formalists. Unlike premodernist paintings, which retain much of their spatial intelligibility and decorative cohesion when reproduced in black and white, these new color photographs share with modern painting a heavy dependency on color. When translated into monochrome, they lose their formal and metaphorical meanings.”

Imagine a color formalist image that has formal and metaphoric meaning.
What might an example be? Describe it.
How could we make a color formalist image with metaphoric meaning?

3rd full paragraph

“Of the principal color photographic formalists, Stephen Shore has most successfully adapted Evan’s objectivity and aesthetic autonomy. Yet unlike Evans, who so ably absorbed the significance and sensuousness of his subjects, recognizing the potent ambiguities in the real, Shore avoids mythic possibilities for purely pictorial meaning.”

What do you think aesthetic autonomy means?

What might it mean or what might some of the possible consequences be of switching from real, social, ambiguities to pure pictorial, abstract ambiguity?

What might such a switch say about a culture or society? What has changed in culture/society to make this change in art possible?

You may reverse this question, so life imitates art, rather than art imitating life (How has such a switch in the concerns of art changed culture or society? What needed to change in culture/society for this type of art to be accepted and internalized and what might the consequences be?).

4th full paragraph:

“…Shore’s paradigms are order, balance, and serenity. Objects, shadows, and intervening spaces provide Shore with vital components of co-equal visual significance.”

Discuss what is meant by co-equal visual significance.

How might using order, balance, and serenity allow you to make socially or symbolically disparate objects coequal?

What might the impulse to do so or the act of doing so mean? What might that say about someone if they used color formalist techniques to make 2 very different things equally important in a single scene (i.e. a bar of gold and a discarded soda can)?

Page 27

Stephen Shore

Halfway through first block of text (before the first full paragraph)
“The almost spiritual sense of balance and quiet harmony that his best photographs contain derives from the sensuous effects of cumulative, rhythmic motifs that remain well integrated, even camouflaged within the continuum of recorded data. Close examination may reveal fugal relationships between various elements, but the individuality of any motif is superseded by its role in the pictorial whole. Consequently, the effect, not the technique, predominates.”


What do you think of these ideas?

Do you believe that the effect described above is something that can be perfectly achieved or is it more an ideals towards which one can strive? Why do you believe the way you do?

Page 31

8th paragraph:

“In giving pictorial realization to epiphanies experienced at the site, Meyerowitz is always cognizant of the rectangular frame.”

What does you think “giving pictorial realization to epiphanies experienced at the site” means?

What are some strategies to being more open to experiencing epiphanies at a site? How can one make themselves more receptive and ready to experience a site-specific epiphany?

Page 34

Paragraph 5

“In the “Bay/sky” photographs, man-made elements provide minute concentrations of rich, often complementary hues that punctuate the fields of nature texture and color.”

How could this strategy of incorporating elements both manmade and natural help to foreground color?

7th paragraph:

“Although Meyerowitz’s selection of light obviates the extreme or abrupt contrasts typically associated with the rendering of clearly defined space, precise readable detail extends throughout each picture. The illusion of spatial depth thus afforded preserves pictorial tensions.”

How does the selection of specific types or qualities of light “obviate” the extreme or abrupt contrasts typically associated with the rendering of clearly defined space, precise readable detail extends throughout each picture.”?

How does it effect the image to reduce spatial articulation while maintaining a high level of individual photographic detail?

Page 35

1st full paragraph

“The ineffable color effects arise from the immaculate presence of apparent visual facts. Meyerowitz thus implicitly rebuts the painter Mark Rothko’s notion that “the familiar identity of things has to be pulverized in order to destroy the finite associations with which our society increasingly enshrouds every aspect of our environment.”

Discuss. Do you agree with this statement?

Discuss the following questions and answer one. They are all pretty similar.

What gives an object in a photograph its specific social meaning or cultural association? How is it that we can read objects in a photograph as symbols that stand for actual objects we may have had experience with?

If apparent dissolution of an object’s individuality is dependent on that object being rendered precisely (details rendered photographically) but being defeated by a collective color strategy – what then, if not photographic detail alone, allows us to understand an object in a photograph?

If color can be used to bypass or de-emphasize the symbolic/social/cultural meaning of an object in a photograph without obliterating detail (leaving the details of an object present) – how does a photograph sometimes make us see only the symbolic/social/cultural meaning of an object?

Discussion Questions for Vernacular Color:

Vernacular Reading Group Discussion Question (Master List)

What are some strategies that you have used or might use to help you recognize and capture vernacular color images?

From the Reading: Page 69

He [Cohen] would agree with Garry Winogrand, who has said he photographs “to see what something looks like when photographed,” and Eugene Ionesco who has written, “If lucidity is required a priori, it is as though one shut the floodgates. We must first let the torrent rush in and only then comes con troll, grasp, comprehension.”

Discuss this statement.
What do you think the floodgates are? What is the torrent? Why might lucidity close the floodgates and stop the torrent? How can we let it rush in? What might be some strategies for encouraging it to do so? How do we exert ‘control, grasp, comprehension’ over the product or result of the “torrent”?

What are some strategies that you have used or might use to help you recognize and capture vernacular color images?

From the Reading: Page 69

Cohen’s methods preclude definitive formal images. By the mid 70’s he was increasingly attempting to the expressive rendering of immediate observations, not in the romantic sense of transforming the ordinary into the ideal, but for the purpose of making the ordinary vividly apparent.

Discuss this statement.
Do you think Cohen’s methods preclude definitive formal images? Why?
What might it mean to expressively render an immediate observation? Is such a thing worth doing? Why?
Imagine and describe examples of images that will demonstrate the difference between romantically transforming the ordinary into the ideal and making the ordinary vividly apparent.

What are some strategies that you have used or might use to help you recognize and capture vernacular color images?

From the Reading: Page 72

He [Meyerowitz] operates energetically, experiencing things in a continuous way. “That’s part of what small-camera photography is about, keeping your experience sensation alive as you move,” he says…

Discuss this statement.
Why might it be important to try to experience things in a continuous way when attempting color vernacular photography?
What might it mean to keep your experience sensation alive as you move? How do you think one goes about doing it? What might some strategies be to help you do so?

What are some strategies that you have used or might use to help you recognize and capture vernacular color images?

From the Reading: Page 73

What narratives can be constructed here exist only in the picture, not in the situation.

What does this statement mean? What might the consequences be of recognizing or creating alternate realities through an unmanipulated photographic image?

Discussion Questions for Chapter 8:

Discussion / Focus Questions for Chapter 8 Reading

Here are some things to help you focus and explore the reading. Some of the techniques discussed in the article are older techniques (use of Polaroid). While still active and rewarding techniques, ask yourself what are some current equivalent (technically and culturally) techniques and materials than might function today in the same way the Polaroid functioned in the 70’s and 80’s.

Identify the thesis of the essay

Identify a statement / passage you disagree with and support your view.

Questions to consider:

2nd sentence:

Why do you think observers might focus more on the “mode” of the work (fabrication) than the “message” of the work (intrinsic value)?

3rd paragraph:

What is the difference between expanding narcissistic tendencies through fabrication and examining the narcissistic tendency using fabrication to “provide poignant perceptions of it”?

6th paragraph:

How has an increased interest in and use of Polaroid products “figured prominently in the increase of fabrication and fantasy”?


How does the physicality of the Polaroid as an object (and the cultural associations attached to it) effect the interpretation of the work produced on it?

234 – Mark Schwartz:

What does it mean to “extract the visually sublime and provocative” from a mundane scene?

Jo Ann Callis:

Do you agree that a technique that delivers “forced clinical scrutiny” withholds clarification or conceptual resolution? Why or why not?

What are some techniques you can think of to achieve similar ends? (Think mystery derived through (meaningless?) clarity…)

OK - there you go... Hope that's not to confusing. I think the intro essay in the book is probably the best of the bunch in that it provides an excellent overview of the entire subject, but there are some interesting ideas to be found throughout.

If you want these as word docs, I can email them to you...



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eauclair's "The New Color"
« Reply #5 on: January 31, 2009, 09:32:25 am »

Quote from: jim.batzer
Ok. Here's the discussion questions. ....

Thank you much for sharing that with me.



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eauclair's "The New Color"
« Reply #6 on: January 31, 2009, 03:33:01 pm »

Thank God photography sometimes just comes naturally!

Rob C
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