Paul Outerbridge: Master of the Carbro Process

Paul Martineau

18 Feb 2013
Continuing our season on photography in conjunction with Juergen Teller: Woo!, Paul Martineau gives a talk on Wednesday 6 March.

Continuing our season on photography in conjunction with Juergen Teller: Woo!, Paul Martineau gives a talk on Wednesday 6 March about the 20th century American photographer Paul Outerbridge (1896-1958). Here he gives an introduction to Outerbridge's pioneering colour photography.

Over a decade before the advent of Kodachrome colour film in 1935, a subtractive method of colour photography was developed that produced colour prints from black and white negatives. Called the three colour carbro transfer process or carbro, it was complex, expensive, and time consuming, but it produced the most vivid and long-lasting colour prints. Of the handful of photographers who were celebrated for their mastery of the carbro process, Paul Outerbridge stands above the rest. Although Outerbridge earned an international reputation using black and white materials during the 1920s, he changed course in the 1930s, reinventing himself as colour photographer par excellence. During a relatively short but intense period of creative activity (1936-39), Outerbridge pushed the medium to its limits, making significant contributions to the history of photography in the areas of still life and the nude.

Of all the traditional genres, Outerbridge believed that still life presented the greatest possibilities for creative work. Still life photographs such as Images de Deauville (1936) were praised for their intellectual clarity as well as for their flawless execution. Images de Deauville contains forms found in French modern art that suggest the sophisticated elegance of the French seaside resort. The shell refers to the sea, the deep shadows, the sun, and the die and the roulette ball, the casino. In addition to including a framed print in the composition, Outerbridge has enclosed the entire composition within a frame. The dual frames hint at the power of photography to subsume other forms of visual art, while underscoring the picture’s multiple layers – from the interior world where a sailboat floats on a calm blue sea to the exterior world of the studio as reflected in the roulette ball.

Paul Martineau
Associate Curator in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Excerpted from ‘Paul Outerbridge: Master of the Carbro Process’ from COLOR magazine, September 2009.

Paul Outerbridge: An Artful Balance, a talk by Paul Martineau, is on Wednesday 6 March 2013.

A screening of the experimental documentary Woman With Claws: The Peculiar Photographs of Paul Outerbridge followed by David Lynch’s Blue Velvet is on Thursday 21 February 2013.

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