U of S | Mailing List Archive | alt-photo-process-l | Re: the color of autochromes

Re: the color of autochromes

On Mon, 4 Aug 2008, Christina Z. Anderson wrote:

Dear All,
While I was in Minneapolis this week, I had some time to waste so I spent it in a delightful used bookstore down on Nicollet Ave. They had an incredible photo book section, and I bought a book by John Wood called The Photographic Arts. It's not that old, 1997, and I see a bunch of them on abebooks.com, but anyway, it has some great essays on the autochrome, the cyanotype, symbolism, pictorialism and Stieglitz, etc. A lot of theoretical stuff but a lot of images to look at, too. He's got some controversial stuff to say about Stieglitz, for sure...
He also had something "controversial" (ie, wrong) to say about John Dugdale. I reviewed "The Photographic Arts" in Post-Factory #1 (April 1998), and did praise the book enthusiastically for one and 1/3 pages (a lot, considering that the Issue had only 48 pages total), but in 3rd paragraph from the end, I admitted being forced to "question Wood's judgment in contemporary esthetics ... when he takes a swipe at another cyanotypist, John Dugdale, as not having a proper '20th century vision.' Here I disagee, and not just because Dugdale is my friend and neighbor."

"Vision of one's time" I pointed out,"is an elusive, invisible quality, as fraught, treacherous and subjective as any in art crit. I shall address the point, a serious one for artists, especially those using 'obsolete' media or equipment, at greater length in future. But for now, whether you share Wood's enthusiasms to the hilt or only so far is irrelevant. What is relevant is his excellent discussion of important issues, not just made visible, but articulated, considered and expanded...." etc. etc. etc.

Even more interesting than my brilliant critique, however, was the sequel. It seems someone who had that issue of Post-Factory also knew this John Wood (there's also another John Wood in photoland, if memory serves) and sent him my review. Thereupon, it seems, Wood had an epiphany, and, reconsidering what "vision of our time" might mean, decided Dugdale's vision was indeed so valid, timely and beautiful that he gave him a chapter in his next major album (titled something like "Next" -- I have a copy over by the window but it's too hot to go over and look for it), in which he gracefully thanked "critic Judy Seigel" (whoever she is) for her commentary on "vision of our time" while showing a lovely selection of John's work, beautifully reproduced.

PS. Chris, what's the title of Mortensen's "$12,000 book on pictorial photography?" That's not "Monsters and Madonnas," I take it.. but I don't at this moment recall another fitting that description ????????????


What I really appreciated from this book was the description of the allure of the autochrome, because I think it applies to gum, too. "...the primary reason that people are so drawn to the autochrome's color is its idyllic light, a lying light which gives the world a softness, a near shimmering, it has never known,"and that we respond to autochromes because they "are the color of dreams...and are unlike the real world which was always harsher than they would suggest it was."

I didn't use some of the parentheses he did because he was actually quoting himself in this passage, but the idea is there to chew on, anyway.

I really respond to his essays and wonder if he is on the list, still around, anyone know him, etc.? He taught at McNeese State University at this time, and has written a number of books on old processes.

I also got an old book by Wm Mortensen on abrasion tone! Alas, it wasn't his $12,000 book on Pictorial Photography.