Matthew Swarts + RADICAL COLOR

February 4, 2015 - 5 minutes read

I am incredibly honored to be a part of Jon Feinstein’s ground-shaking exhibition: RADICAL COLOR @ Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, Oregon. Opening Friday, February 6th, 2015 and on view until March 30th, 2015.


From the essay that accompanies the exhibition:

Radical Color: A Continuous Black Hole

Color photography and its relationship to the established art world have endured a charged and tenuous past. Nearly 50 years ago, William Eggleston, Helen Levitt, William Christenberry, Stephen Shore, and Joel Sternfeld, propelled by the support of John Szarkowski and the Museum of Modern Art, helped encourage a larger embrace of color photography within the greater dialogue of fine art. While early 20th century photographers like Edward Steichen made significant moves to explore color’s experimental possibilities, Shore’s generation may have been the first to push it into wider acceptance beyond its traditional place as a commercial application. Their approach was largely descriptive, using color as a means of representing the world beyond black and white’s limited abilities.

Color’s next generation, which included Jeff Wall, Rineke Dijkstra, Thomas Ruff and many others working in the late 1980’s onward, introduced a new level of excitement, one whose engagement with art history and conceptual art helped further enable a dialogue with the fine art world. In many cases these photographers challenged earlier generations’ use of color as factual description, and photography’s ability to accurately represent any notion of truth.

Using these two generations as a reference point, Radical Color looks to how contemporary art photographers have expanded upon these previous conversations. While pioneers like Shore may have used color as a means of achieving pure description, and the following generation challenged its truthfulness, the photographers in this exhibition are approaching color with an understanding of, and desire to build upon and run with its limitations. Their methods incorporate a range of techniques, both analogue and digital, but are linked by the influence of rapid technological shifts, a culture of non-stop online sharing, and an environment in which black and white photography no longer dominates.

Radical Color might appear to be a swarm of saturation and messy hues, an inward reference to photographic process, or an extension of “New Formalism” which has consistently riled critics on and offline for the past few years with its heightened attention to photographic process. Jessica Labatte and Justin Hodges’ work represent opposite extremes of this – Labatte’s with its abstracted manipulation of Photoshop tools, and Hodges, with its grotesque, large-scale photographic sculpture. Like many artists in this exhibition, their work is part of an ongoing question about the defining characteristics of the medium.

Color’s digital qualities have a unique role throughout much of Radical Color, as a new means for artificially unveiling the unexplainable, exploring uncertainty, distance, and escapism. In some cases these associations are deeply personal, and at times political or historical, while others address this with playful humor and wit. For example, Matthew Swarts’ deeply personal work uses digital layers of color to make sense of his past relationship, and as a metaphor for the ambiguities of memory and fading intimacy. Azikiwe Mohammed uses appropriated images from the Internet to create fictional, planetary landscapes, emphasizing his feelings of alienation as an African American from the canon of American history. Sadie Weschler uses a range of digital tools to manipulate natural landscapes, reflecting on how the land has been continuously shifted by human presence over centuries of human development.

The photographers included in Radical Color consistently use photography to demonstrate a more consciously subjective understanding of the world around them than preceding generations. Whether they are using film, digital processes or appropriating existing images, they are linked by a nebulous, continuously shifting period in photography’s history informed by constant sharing of images and ideas.

– Jon Feinstein

Newspace Center for Photography
1632 SE 10th Ave.
Portland, OR 97214
503.963.1935 phone

Please see the online version of the show on the Humble Arts Foundation Site:

And this kind and informative feature on


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