Color Rush: Exhibition Walkthrough

Use this walkthrough to get a brief overview of the different areas of Color Rush: 75 Years of Color Photography in America at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

This year (2012–13), K–12 teachers receive free admission to the Museum upon showing their school ID or pay stub. We encourage you to visit the Museum before your class’s docent or self-guided tour and to use this guide as you view the exhibition. There are also discussion points, which we encourage you to use with your students.

Early Color Photography

The first area of the exhibition is meant to feel like a “jewel box”; it showcases several autochromes, the earliest kind of color photography. Autochromes were printed on glass plates and require strong backlighting to view, which is why this first room is so dark. Previously, color had to be hand-applied to photographs. Though still time consuming, this 1907 French invention allowed photographers to play with color like never before.

Discussion prompt:

  • How does the lighting and setup of this room affect how we look at these photographs? What is the mood of the room? Does the mood relate to the subject matter of the photographs?

Consuming Color

With improvements in color film processing in the 1930s, advertisers and magazine editors saw color as an opportunity to powerfully entice consumers. They commissioned (paid) photographers who were working with color to create images of their products or to shoot editorials.

Meanwhile, color film was working its way into Hollywood thanks to the Technicolor Corporation, and documentary photographers were exploring ways to use color to depict daily life. These very different arenas helped color photography gain traction and evolve.

Discussion prompts:

  • Compare the advertisements in the exhibition to those you see today. How are the products and advertisements similar? How are they different?
  • How does art relate to advertising? Can advertising be art? For an extended debate activity on this topic, click here.

Choosing Color

In the 1940s and 1950s, many established photographers known for their black-and-white work began using color. This section shows their experiments, as color photography increasingly earned acceptance in the art world. Museums such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Art Institute of Chicago began devoting exhibitions to color photography, confirming its place in the world of fine art.

Discussion prompt:

  • What are the similarities and the differences in how the artists in this section are thinking in color? Choose two artists to compare, or have your students choose, and have the class explore this question.

Explosion of Color

By the 1960s, color photography was a major part of the fine arts scene, and artists were beginning to push beyond what their predecessors had been doing. Thanks to quick-processing technology, such as Polaroid film, it was easier than ever to produce a photograph in color.

Artists used slide projections, printed photographs, and other installation techniques to create experiences and images that were unlike what had been done before.

Discussion prompt:

  • How has technology changed throughout the exhibition? Consider the different types of photography and display techniques you have seen throughout the show. How has this affected the works of art themselves?