Theses Doctoral

Natural Color Photography, 1890–1920: Technology, Gender, Colonialism

Hutcheson, Rachel Lee

This project explores the technological hybridity of early color formats against medium-specific definitions of photography and cinema. It argues for the centrality of female photographers as early practitioners and innovators of color photography in the United States and England. It claims that color featured prominently in the late Victorian and Edwardian imperial imaginary to construct orientalizing views of colonial subjects.

Early color photographic technologies (1890-1920) are situated within contemporaneous scientific and social debates around color. These debates evince a crucial epistemological shift in the conceptualization of color: from a relational phenomenon of the human senses and world to an empirical and physical one affixed to objects.

The first chapter advances the color image as an event: a co-production of the human sensorium and machine technologies, rendered in time and space. The second chapter charts the intersections of photography, color, and gender discourses, with an emphasis on three female photographers who successfully marshalled the gendered biases of color in order to establish expressive modes and photographic careers in the new color medium. The gendering of color also helped to define orientalist photography and film of the British colonial era, particularly that of India, the subject of the third chapter.

Comparing color in orientalist depictions of India and the use of color in Indian photographic portraits compels us to reconsider the links between technology and subjectivity as well as modernity and colonialism. This dissertation seeks not only to rewrite the history of early color photography but also to reconfigure understandings of aesthetic modernity as a complex imbrication of art, technology, gender, and imperialism.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Elcott, Noam M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 12, 2024