“I even think of black and white as colours, it just happens to be limited to two,” explained Bruce Davidson, comparing himself to a baseball switch-hitter able to swing both ways depending on the score.
A far cry from his mentor Henri Cartier-Bresson who famously rejected the use of colour. We can now look back on this sterile debate (i.e. B&W versus Colour) with the advantage of having seen the wonderful colour work of Cartier-Bresson’s contemporaries Helen Levitt, Ernst Haas, Fred Herzog and in particular Saul Leiter.
For me, Leiter was the most interesting of the fifties colour photographers. His vision laid down the foundations for so much of the street photography we see today whether through his internal framing, his bold use of colour or his near Expressionism all of which are evident in this photograph:
It has always seemed strange to me that a giant of an artist like Cartier-Bresson, a painter himself, who would have studied the likes of Bonnard, Degas and Picasso, eschewed colour. But perhaps his photographs would not have reached the ascetic ideal that he seemed to crave if colour had been allowed to “humanise” its subjects? Gaby Wood wrote: “The reason his photographs often feel numbly impersonal now is not just that they are familiar. It’s that they’re so coolly composed, so infernally correct that there’s nothing raw about them, and you find yourself thinking: would it not be more interesting if his moments were a little less decisive?” 2
Today’s best colour street photography is highly sophisticated. Alex Webb, Melanie Einzig, Trent Parke, to name a few, have all employed colour in new challenging ways. I for one look forward to exploring colour in my own practice. Who could not admire the use of colour in Karl Baden’s beautiful photograph?
see http://time.com/3696223/bruce-davidsons-ode-to-color-photography/ ↩
see http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n11/gaby-wood/nothing-to-do-with-me ↩