New Colour Guide
2013 - by Ricardo Garrido
For this new edition of the already acclaimed Photobook Combat, I have asked Ricardo Garrido, one of the three popes of the PhotobookClub Madrid—who suggests what is cool or not cool in photography books—to share his ideas about one of the last-minute surprises of the year 2012: New Colour Guide by John MacLean. He compares it to one of the most fundamental books in the history of photography—nothing more and nothing less than William Eggleston’s Guide. I will leave you with Ricardo’s words:
In one corner of the ring, with colorful shorts and riding a tricycle: William Eggleston along with his coach Sally Eauclaire and in the other corner of the ring, stomping without a coach and wearing shorts that read ‘New Colour Guide’, aspiring champion John MacLean.
William Eggleston had a brilliant career as a photographer; he ‘hit the ball out of the park’ back in 1976 with an exhibition at MoMA. This exhibition sparked much controversy between critics who said his photographs were original and those who said his pictures were perfectly banal.
In the USA, they soon began to talk about ‘New Color’ as if they had invented it—and that Eliot Porter and Ernst Haas were the ‘Old Color’. ‘New Color’ photographers included Stephen Shore, Joel Meyerowitz, Mitch Epstein, Larry Babis, Adam Bartos, Len Jenshel and Kenneth McGowan.
All these photographers are collected in Sally Eauclaire’s book, New Color / New Work.
These ‘New Color’ photographers remind me, in part, of the pictorialists of the early twentieth century, so preoccupied with finding the perfect structures. The book William Eggleston’s Guide seems like a walk through his native Memphis, making the ordinary something extraordinary, something that even John Szarkowski (Director of the photography department at MoMA) could not explain adequately when he wrote the introduction to the book. But why was the book William Eggleston’s Guide’—what did he mean by ‘Guide’? Was the title innocent or intentional?
Today, we see the intention behind the book’s title more clearly; it was not only a guide to the photos by Eggleston but also a guide to how color photos should be taken. Thirty-seven years have passed since the publication of Eggleston’s book—photography has advanced exponentially, everyone has a camera in their pocket, and anyone can make photographs and manipulate them on their home computer. It seems that the time has come to review color in contemporary photography.
John MacLean punches the table at this point, and the crayons fly into the air. He publishes New Colour Guide, and his title is deliberate since it implies that what we understood as ‘New Color’ is no longer new… and that colour in today’s photography is another thing entirely.
The book’s title says this clearly and loudly, with letters filling the cover. MacLean proposes a new time in the history of photography: A ‘Ferrari’ of ‘new colour’ that speeds past the ‘old horse and cart’ of the ‘old color’ of Eggleston’s 1970s.
In one respect, MacLean far exceeds Eggleston. If Eggleston’s subject matter was banal… MacLean’s is even more banal!
Have you noticed that in what I have written so far, ‘New Color’ appears when we refer to the color of the 70s and ‘New Colour’ when we refer to the colour of the 2010s? This is because in the USA, the word ‘color’ is written c o l o r, and in England, it is spelt c o l o u r. This raises a question: Is this a slap from MacLean to the New Colorists on the other side of the Atlantic? Does he mean to make a point between the new and the old? Is it intentional? Will we have to wait several years to find out? Is John MacLean the typical uptight Brit who—when a Spaniard arrives in London and asks him something—doesn’t answer because he hasn’t pronounced English correctly? Or is John, in fact, a fan of Monty Python?
In my opinion, John MacLean is a very crude guy. He seeks to attract attention to himself by giving his book this title—seeking a confrontation with Eggleston. John MacLean, to my mind, is very unsubtle; he makes a book called “Guide to the new color” and what you find is… only that, color. There is an orange dot in this photo and an orange dot in the other. It seems that his way of photographing is based only on color games. It goes no further. And as to raising a flag—and waving it as if he is the first to carry it — artists who talk up their work are rarely worth anything.
Eggleston is a subtle guy with a slow cadence; his images seduce with their rhythms—then he STABS you without you even knowing it. He made his own guide. His—not the American Color’s—or anything like that. He presented his way of seeing the world in a book.
The title of John MacLean’s book is important because, in these times, a book that spoke of color in a subtle form would go unnoticed.
The fact that John MacLean speaks of his work or from his “I” does not detract from his value as an artist; it is necessary to separate the person from the artist to value art more justly; not all artists have to be humble.
In Eggleston’s Guide, we see the shadow of the author in the light of a lantern on the ground; it has had repercussions, and nobody wonders why. The reason for such success was that he led the “New Color”, and all the photographic media supported the “New Color” because it was economically convenient for them; all the houses of photographic material, magazines, stores, etc., advised to shoot in color negative, which it gave “better color”, and if not; “Look at the pictures of Eggleston.”
Ordinary people also liked Eggleston because they could take that kind of photos and feel like more of an artist. You could tell the neighbor, “Look, I have taken a picture of a dog drinking from a puddle”, and the neighbor answers, “! Fuck! Like Eggleston! You’re a great artist!”
My grandfather used to shoot in color slides. Still, my father preferred color negative, which was almost three times more expensive since the development included 36 copies of 10 × 15, which was very profitable for stores.
Eggleston’s guide (without him wanting it, I think) became a tool to increase the consumption of photographic material. In a country as capitalist as the US, guys like this are made monumental.
In this way, Eggleston’s book has become a political book subtly; as Alberto says, he stabs you without you noticing and steals your wallet.
John MacLean’s book is sincere; he says, “I’m going to talk about Color” and talks about color. It must be seen as a political book. However, he makes an unforgivable mistake (at least in this country, it is indefensible) and lacks humour in his photographs. A book with political overtones without wit is like a Polvorones sandwich; it becomes difficult to digest. It lacks irony and funny shots that appeal to the general public; for this reason, it will remain a book only for geeks who know photographic history.
One factor not apparent in Eggleston’s book is that the prints were made by the dye transfer process. The result is absolutely mind-blowing and very different from what an average hobbyist can do. Original prints are well worth seeing.
I’ve only looked at MacLean’s book, so I can’t give an informed opinion, but it did give me the feeling that he had a certain sense of humour, perhaps a bit wicked. As you say, the photographs gave me the feeling of being even more banal than Eggleston’s, and I think that’s where the bad blood seeps in.
The most significant difference between the two is in the conception of the photographic image. Imagine the black-and-white images. Eggleston’s would not clash with classic sixties and seventies American photographs. I think MacLean’s wouldn’t fit. They are too… postmodern. I bet on MacLean as a Monty Python fan.
Making a book with these images so banal and obvious in terms of structure looks pretty daring on the part of MacLean. That’s why I bought the book; it’s very punk in its own way. Apart from the colors, of course.
I wish Lizaralde would come to a gathering to say all those interesting things in person!
I still don’t know which side I am on; I want to believe that of MacLean, and since perception is a lie, I already think that way.
As I understand it, the Eggleston copies presented at the MOMA (1976) were contact copies of negatives, and then the transfers, giant reproductions, etc., would be made. But I’m not 100% sure.
Yes, it’s true; you have to see the originals. He is like Ansel Adams; he cannot be entirely judged from the photos we see in the books; he is a wall photographer.
With these books, it is not a question of siding with one or the other since they are different times; Eggleston champions the new color with the help of the institutions and MacLean, as Olmo says, in a more punk way, since today you don’t have to be famous to be able to publish a photobook. If photographic history continues its cyclical rhythm, MacLean’s book will become important, referencing the “color” of our time.
By the way, I forgot an important detail: in MacLean’s book, on the first page, there is a purple sticker that says, “If you can see the blue lines, the color temperature is less than 5000º Kelvin” that is you cannot trust the cones of the retina of your eyes. If you want to see the photos with the right color, you must do it in daylight. And it works when you see the sticker in another type of light; you see two blue bands.
The sticker idea is freaky, but I love it; all the color books that value themselves should have one.
The sticker tells you you should view the book with a light source with the correct color temperature. But it is already apparent that you should see a photo book that way; he doesn’t need to tell us!
Putting it like this in a book is like a photographer telling the viewer at an exhibition that he must see the prints at a certain distance to see them correctly. It’s conceited.
For me, the big difference is that Eggleston revolutionized color by himself without having to announce to the four winds what he was doing. And that’s why he’s a genius, and MacLean isn’t.
MacLean has the arrogance of announcing himself as the apostle of something. And that’s a lot for an artist to claim—too much in this case.
It’s like I made a photobook called “The New Spanish Photography.” Either it is an ironic title… or it would show me to the world as being a real asshole.
Eggleston did not announce anything to the four winds because people already did it for him.
In Spain, artists with big egos are frowned upon; they better go abroad (e.g., Picasso); we like artists to live like real beggars (e.g., Gaudí).
Oh! Yes! Let’s make such a book!
“The New Spanish iPhone Photography”?