The endless scientific debate on color perception is thought-provoking. According to the experts, some women possess superior color vision, known as tetrachromacy. Without being able to ascertain whether this ability played a role in the art of the women photographers featured in the exhibition, it is curious to note that, throughout the history of photography, color has been a woman’s forte. Take, for example, the pioneering photographer Anna Atkins who applied the technique of cyanotype to produce images of seaweed. These contact prints, made without the use of a camera by exposing the paper directly to sunlight, develop striking shades of blue. They have marked generations of photographers and are considered an early use of color in photography.
The artist Nancy Wilson-Pajic explores the cyanotype process, for example in an impressive large-format print that opens the exhibition. It represents a human figure in mid-fall amid a flurry of small flowers. The artist entitled the work Falling Angel, and the sheer magnitude of the image is quite literally mind-blowing. Next to it, we find a photograph by the Finnish Claire Aho who has been using color since the 1950s. She goes so far in her vision as to create a photographic mise-en-abime with a picture of a bouquet of flowers taken in a photo studio among tools of the trade. This powerful image reveals women’s affinity for color in the history of photography. Some female photographers even bring color into the darkroom just as the photograph is being developed. This is true, for example, of Ellen Carey and Jo Bradford. Both photographers experiment with different elements of art, such glass plates, lighting, or filters. The result is a festival of colors which, deployed in abstract images, inspire primal reveries.
Forging an image, elaborating it, and breathing life into it: this is the work of Mariah Robertson. The artist has rebelled against all the customary rules of photography: she does everything that, according to theory, one mustn’t do with photographic paper. As if by a magician’s sleight of hand, she fabricates compositions in which layers of color combine to create a sky filled with clouds of all sizes. Similarly, Chloe Sells experiments with color and superimposed layers. The artist lives in Botswana and photographs the country’s landscapes inhabited by large animals. She captures the serenity of the plains that blend in with the sky, and adds a shifting frame that unsettles the viewer.
Susan Derges turns the landscape itself into a darkroom. Working outdoors on a moonlit night, she summons the ghost of a tree onto the photographic paper. She then develops the photo in a stream, which creates the impression that the tree is dancing. Sally Gall, in turn, captures fragments of kites in the sky, for example in this shot of bright-colored paper medusas fluttering in the air. Patty Carroll is another lover of colors. She makes quirky portraits in which female mannequins are swallowed up by an absurd décor made up of colorful, motley-patterned objects. The work of Meghann Riepenhoff counterbalances these meticulous compositions. The artist has placed a book in the gallery that is gradually filled through contact with light. Every day, the gallery owner Miranda Salt turns a page which will take on the color of the day. A record of this wonderful exhibition, the book thus becomes a subtle chronicle of the history of women photographers and the history of color.
By Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
Women in Colour: Anna Atkins, Colour Photography, and Those Struck by Light
April 26 to June 15, 2019
Galerie Miranda, 21 Rue du Château d’Eau, 75010 Paris