Color Photography Dazzles Beginning February 13

The Cincinnati Art Museum showcases work of 1970s color photographers including William Eggleston, Stephen Shore and more.

CINCINNATI - Garish, pedestrian and commercial - that's how critics characterized color photography in the 1970s. It was in fact an explosion of color and the beginning of a new form of art. Starburst: Color Photography in America 1970-1980 is the first survey of a burgeoning period in photography. Through the work of artists such as William Eggleston, Stephen Shore and Mitch Epstein, conventions of the snapshot are turned into high art.

"They might have taken our Kodachrome away," says Art Museum Director Aaron Betsky, "but they can't take these amazingly vivid bursts of color and composition away from us. A new landscape opened up to us through these photographs, one in which gas stations and billboards, forgotten moments and ordinary people, could astonish us. We still live in that landscape, but we have never understood how it was shaped. Starburst will show us where photography today has come from."

Until the 1970s, black-and-white documentary photography was the gold standard for art photography. Color photography was used commercially and for family snapshots; color signified the ordinary and the everyday. Post-Pop photographers embraced these conventions, using them to comment upon society and the role that color photography played in shaping contemporary life.

"The far-reaching debates over color photography's merits and intentions," says guest curator Kevin Moore, "provide a register of the anxieties transforming American society during the 1970s, a decade that continues to define our political thought, cultural ethos, and artistic sensibility."

New Color played an instrumental role in demolishing existing standards for art photography by emphasizing transparency and banality in the service of larger ideas. By the end of the 1970s, you couldn't work in black-and-white unless it was to make a point about older forms of the mass media or to express a position, often nostalgic, on modernist photography.

"The landscape of contemporary art would look much different today without the pioneering efforts of the photographers comprising Starburst," said James Crump, Curator of Photography at the Cincinnati Art Museum. "It would be difficult to overstate the influence these artists had on the leading image-makers that followed. In the languid, sometimes trippy color of the 1970s, they turned subject matter and traditional genres upside down, collectively reinvesting photography as the dominant medium of our time."

Starburst: Color Photography in America 1970-1980 comprises a critical survey of the color photography phenomenon, presenting over 200 works by 18 photographers, including well known photographers Harry Callahan, William Christenberry, William Eggleston, Helen Levitt, Joel Meyerowitz, Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld.

Starburst also presents work by less recognized artists, all of whom received significant critical attention as part of the New Color movement during the 1970s: John Divola, Mitch Epstein, Jan Groover, Robert Heinecken, Barbara Kasten, Les Krims, Richard Misrach, John Pfahl, Leo Rubinfien, Neal Slavin and Eve Sonneman. As critics at the time noted, this group of diverse photographers represented a range of positions, from formalist documentary to post-Pop banality to purely conceptual applications of the medium.

Starburst: Color Photography in America 1970-1980 offers the first historical survey of what critics of the 1970s called "The New Color Photography," a loose artistic movement that generated much controversy and excitement in a multitude of exhibitions and publications throughout the decade. Addressing various themes, such as the technological factors contributing to color's emergence, cultural biases against color photography's use as an art form, and shifting attitudes between formalist and conceptual practices, the exhibition explores color's role in the transition between modern and contemporary approaches to art photography during the 1970s.

Cincinnati Art Museum
953 Eden Park Drive
Cincinnati, OH 45202

February 13, 2010 - May 9, 2010


Starburst: Color Photography in America 1970-1980 is accompanied by a full color catalogue published by by Hatje Cantz and distributed by DAP/Distributed Art Publishers and including texts by Kevin Moore, James Crump and Leo Rubinfien. The catalogue will be released in conjunction with the opening of the exhibition in Cincinnati and can be purchased ($70) at the Cincinnati Art Museum Shop or by calling (513) 639-2959.

ISBN: 978-3775724906

Exhibition Sponsor:
LPK - Building Leadership Brands

Fine Arts Fund Partners:
Cincinnati Bell
The Cincinnati Insurance Companies