Dec/Jan 2009

William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961–2008

Albert Mobilio


In the mid-’60s, William Eggleston, influenced by Robert Frank’s depiction of a drama-charged everyday, began producing color prints of commonplace scenes, sites, and objects, primarily in the American South. At the time, color photography was associated with decidedly commercial venues and applications—Look magazine, billboards, and Kodachrome snapshots, for instance. But Eggleston exaggerated the true-to-life feel that color processing lent; by employing the ink-heavy dye-transfer method of printing, he deepened the hues till they appeared luxuriant, lurid, even unreal—thus undoing the very realism color was supposed to deliver. He shot quotidian tableaux—porches, gas stations, dinner tables, storefronts (even at Graceland, he focused on furniture)—with an ingenious, Albers-like eye for the way colors push and pull one another. He also found, in his native South, subjects that, when isolated by the lens and vivified by pigment, were revealed as gothic oddities worthy of Poe or Flannery O’Connor. An assemblage of rouge-cheeked, wide-eyed dolls on a car hood makes for a tumult of candy-tinted plastic and satin. Underlined by the vehicle’s polished blue metal, the regal hood ornamentation most prominent, the eerie pageant constitutes a metacommentary on color’s connection to fakery while striking a piquant note about the culture that treasures such stagy display. Democratic Camera serves as the catalogue for the current Eggleston show at the Whitney Museum in New York, which includes black-and-white efforts from the early ’60s through work done just this year. Of course, all the iconic images are here: a red ceiling with white wires, a faded peaches! sign, Christmas lights wrapped around a green column, and a tricycle shot so close that it dwarfs the house behind it; the descriptions themselves confirm that Eggleston’s eye is democratic, indeed.

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