Early Color: Magnum Photographers

This summer, Magnum Photos presented iconic color photographs from the 20th century in the latest exhibition at its Paris gallery, located in the 11th arrondissement. It is the gallery’s first group exhibition to date, drawing upon the work of eight photographers in total: Werner Bischof, Ernst Haas, Alex Webb, Harry Gruyaert, Constantine Manos, Miguel Rio Branco, Bruno Barbey, and Gueorgui Pinkhassov.
“Fashion, food, travel, cars, flying — everything took on a new brightness. The dark ages were over,” Ernst Haas once wrote on his transition from black and white photography to color in the early 1950s. “Is it any wonder then that a young photographer longed for a color film with which [they] could capture all this new colorfulness in the environment?”

Although exploring color as a new photographic medium was encouraged by several photographers within Magnum such as Robert Capa, many others in the industry were not entirely convinced. Photographers that opted to work in color were often fighting against the current, dismissed as ‘commercial’ or ‘technically inferior.’ Fellow Magnum founder Cartier-Bresson would allegedly go on to destroy a large number of his color negatives and transparencies, naming the medium as something simply ‘indigestible.’
For some, working in color was not a hindrance, but rather a prerequisite for artistic expression. In Pinkhassov’s debut photobook, Sightwalk, the streets of Tokyo are brought to life through vibrant color, reflections, and shadows — elevating the everyday to the extraordinary. In Gruyaert’s Made in Belgium, the low-light, gray, blue and green hues of the setting work in stark contrast with the bright colors of tradition and rapid Americanization within the country, capturing the very essence of his conflicted feelings towards his
For most, as Haas described, there was a clear transition from black and white. It wasn’t until Constantine Manos started traveling the USA that he turned to color, specifically Kodachrome, to document the states — a radical change from his earnest Greek Portfolio, shot entirely in black and white. For Bruno Barbey, the move to color came while working in Brazil in 1966, the year he joined Magnum. He went on to prove a deep commitment to the medium with landmark works such as My Morocco, which, decades later, still immerse
you as if you too were walking the streets of his birthplace. Similarly, Alex Webb turned to color several years after his first trips to Haiti and Mexico in the 70s, finding that black-and-white was far too restrictive a medium to capture the emotional vibrancy and intensity of these cultures. He has never turned back.
And as for Werner Bischof, where the exhibition’s journey through color photography of the 20th century begins, shooting in color was an experiment that he had already started in 1939 with a Devin Tricolor camera.
His ventures in color photography remained hidden away in his vast black-and-white archive, to be discovered and shared with the world almost 70 years after his passing by the Werner Bischof Estate (Tania Kuhn & Marco Bischof).
Assembling eight different pioneering perspectives from the Magnum archive through over 40 works, the exhibition also pays homage to the traditional color printing processes of the era, featuring a large number of rare vintage dye transfer and cibachrome prints.
Samantha McCoy, Paris Gallery Director states: “We do not often think of color when we think of Magnum’s early years, and yet several of the cooperative’s photographers were instrumental players in the dawn of color photography. As the medium becomes more integrated into the art world, we feel it is time to revisit these pivotal years and celebrate the art that emerged.”



The Magnum Gallery represents all generations of Magnum photographers and estates, honoring the legacy of its 75-year-old archive whilst nurturing the careers of the co-operative’s younger generation of photographers.
Operating in both Paris and London, The Magnum Gallery has a robust online and offline exhibition program and works with institutions, seasoned collectors, as well as amateurs in the art world, aiming at a wide public engagement for art. The Magnum Gallery is also present at leading art and photography fairs around the world.


EARLY COLOR: Magnum Photographers
September 1 – October 7, 2023
Magnum Gallery – Paris – France

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