Phillip Prodger

Curator and Art Historian

Outerbridge Photograph
Paul Outerbridge, Party, Mazatlan, Mexico, c. 1950
© Outerbridge Estate, all rights reserved.

Paul Outerbridge: New Color Photographs from California and Mexico, 1948-1952 introduces a powerful and previously unknown body of work by one of America's earliest masters of color photography. Outerbridge built his reputation by making virtuoso carbro-color prints of nudes and still lifes, mainly in the studio, during the 1930s. In the late 1940s and 1950s, he took his camera to the streets, crossing the border between California and Mexico and photographing the people and places he found. Shooting in bold, luminous Kodachrome, his photographs explore the quirkiness of 1950s leisure culture, and examine the blending of two inter-woven societies at a distinctive time in history. From governors to gauchos, and from stevedores to bathing beauties, Outerbridge captured the humanity, and occasionally the absurdity, of people as they gathered at weddings, pool parties, and picture spots. As brilliant and innovative today as when they were made, they demonstrate Outerbridge's breathtaking mastery of the new art of color photography.

Among the scenes Outerbridge captured: carnival carriages with passengers dressed and bound for a grand party; a group of fashionable men relaxing in an outdoor hotel lobby drinking Cokes and beer while a small orchestra plays on in the afternoon sun; and a lone girl in a lime-green dress and white sweater walking past a gas station whose painted-red details add vibrant flourishes to the scene. Outerbridge was keenly aware that the beauty of everyday objects was also tied to the larger meanings anchored in the social landscape.

The project brings to light a missing link in photographic history: a forgotten body of photographs bridging the gap between modern and contemporary practice. The catalogue is due to come out in 2009; the exhibition is currently planned to open in Lausanne, Switzerland and Los Angeles – from there it will tour.

William Ewing, Graham Howe and Phillip Prodger, Paul Outerbridge: New Color Photographs from California and Mexico, 1948-1952, [Portland, Oregon: Nazraeli, March 2009].