Slideshow: The Black-and-White Photography Era, in Color

Study with pins and ribbons
Study with pins and ribbons Photo: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy /Artists Rights Society

Even as late as the seventies, a lot of serious photographers looked askance at color pictures. Black-and-white was pure, documentary, the medium of Arbus and Adams and Avedon. Color was for ads and blockbusters. That attitude is mostly gone now—William Eggleston, Saul Leiter, Helen Levitt, and many others helped bury it for good—but spend some time with Katherine A. Bussard and Lisa Hostetler’s Color Rush: American Color Photography from Stieglitz to Sherman (Aperture, $60), and you’ll begin to realize that it was bunk all along. For one thing, the marriage of art and technology that these images required is, itself, compelling: You cannot help staring at, say, a color photo of Parisian life in 1907, as much for its achievement as for its content. Even more eye-opening are those very approaches that highfalutin artists eschewed: the oversaturated Kodachrome jewel tones that make a Hollywood tableau simultaneously over-the-top and exactly right, or the crisp, sad Americana of Stephen Shore, or the ultrabrowsable American memory bank that is Life magazine. Makes you realize: There’s a reason its logo was bright red.

*This article originally appeared in the April 22, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.

Slideshow: The Black-and-White Era, in Color