Chromatic Modernity

Dr. Joshua Yumibe, Associate Professor of English and Director of Film Studies, recently published Chromatic Modernity: Color, Cinema, and Media of the 1920s with Columbia University Press. Co-authored book with Yumibe’s collaborator Dr. Sarah Street (University of Bristol), the new study examines the relation of color in film and related media of the time to the overarching forces of the modern world, from art to industry to the cultural ramifications of the mass production and consumption of color at the beginning of the twentieth century. Broadly speaking, Yumibe and Street aimed to contextualize color’s dynamic role in the arts—including commercial and print culture, fashion and industry theatre and the performing arts—to produce a comprehensive, comparative study that situates color cinema firmly within the chromatic culture of the 1920s, ultimately exploring how color reshaped the modern world.

Dr. Joshua Yumibe, man with black hair in suit

Focusing on the final decade of silent film, Yumibe and Street portray the 1920s as a pivotal and profoundly chromatic period of cosmopolitan exchange, collaboration, and experimentation in and around cinema. Chromatic Modernity explores contemporary debates over color’s artistic, scientific, philosophical, and educational significance. It examines a wide range of European and American films, including Opus 1 (1921), L’Inhumaine (1923), Die Nibelungen (1924), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), The Lodger (1927), Napoléon (1927), and Dracula (1932). Situating film among developments in art, color science, and industry, Chromatic Modernity reveals the role of color cinema in forging new ways of looking at and experiencing the modern world.

colorful illustration

Drs. Yumibe and Street began working on the project since 2012, when then received a Leverhulme Research Project grant of about $400,000 that allowed them to carry extensive archival research with the help of two postdocs who worked on the project with them, Dr. Vicky Jackson (University of Bristol) and Dr. Bregt Lameris (University of Zurich). Both in research and writing, the project, Yumibe explains “has been extremely collaborative in the best of the ways.”

Chromatic Modernity on Columbia University Press