In the beginning there was color and color was Harry Gruyaert. Too grand a claim, perhaps, but something happened to Gruyaert when, leaving his native Belgium in the late 1960s, he found himself visiting Morocco and discovering a new world. Or, more accurately, he found a new way of photographing a world that had always been there.
Gruyaert had previously been to New York and seeing the Pop Art of Warhol and others had alerted him to the drama inherent in color, a photographic medium which at that time was straight-jacketed in the field of advertising. It was time to claim color for images that weren’t trying to sell or promote a product unless we say photography itself was the product.
“It’s the Middle Ages and Breugel at the same time,” Gruyaert said of Morocco.
It was a puzzling remark if taken at face level because the photographs he took in that country have little to do with a temporal era or communal scenes featuring peasants. Less puzzling is Gruyaert’s attempt to express his wonder at everyday scenes that completely shook him out of that comfort zone called familiarity; a revelation for him of how what was ordinary in one sense could be an eye-opener when color and form was seen afresh, as if for the first time.
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