New York Photo Review
Volume 4 Issue 30 July 16 to 22, 2013

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

The Color of Things
William Eggelston
At War with the Obvious

Photo by William Eggelston . Source:
William Eggelston, "Untitled (Louisiana)" 1980.
Seeing William Eggleston’s iconic image of a child’s tricycle (variously known as “Tricycle”, “Untitled” or “Memphis”) in this extraordinary new show at The Met makes you aware of how little we actually see until a photographer with a sensibility like Eggleston’s opens your eyes to the world around us.

What’s immediately obvious about this exhibition is that the Met has acquired an important body of work by a photographer with a well-deserved reputation as a color pioneer. Of course, MoMA got to it first, with its groundbreaking publication and exhibition of William Eggleston’s Guide in 1976 that brought decidedly mixed reviews. After all, this was the first solo exhibition of color photography at MoMA and the art world was not pleased. Wasn’t color photography supposed to be for weddings and advertising? Yet, Eggleston’s eye for composition, his ability to explore and illuminate the mundane combined with his decision to print his work using the dye transfer process took color photography to a new level and forced the art world to take it—and him— more seriously.

According to Jeff Rosenheim, the Met’s Curator in Charge of the Department of Photography, the museum had wanted more of Eggleston’s work for a long time; this exhibition celebrates their recent acquisition, which includes Eggleston’s first portfolio, 14 Pictures (1974), 15 prints from William Eggleston’s Guide and seven other Eggleston photographs. Rosenheim admits that Eggleston’s photographs became so valuable due to market forces that the museum had to seek outside sources of funding to make the acquisition.

Eggleston’s declaration of being “at war with the obvious” was his way to explore the world the media overlooked. He often photographed the things that we rarely, if ever look at, like shoes and other junk under a bed, a light bulb against a red ceiling, or that child’s tricycle parked on a suburban driveway. And he did it all in color because, as he said, “The way I have always looked at it is the world is in color. And there’s nothing we can do about that.”

Photo by William Eggelston . Source:
William Eggelston, "Untitled (Tricycle)".
It’s also apparent that Eggleston is a regionalist—he’s never really photographed outside of the Mississippi Delta area where he grew up. He’s an artist who, by examining the evident but not obvious details of life, explores what it means to be living where he does. He raises the possibility that everything is worth a closer look. There’s an image of Elvis’s piano at Graceland. It looks like an ordinary piano. But then again, it’s Elvis’! A Wonder Bread sign on the side of a country road “Helps Build Strong Bodies 8 Ways”––you’ve probably passed signs like that a thousand times but never stopped to look. Or a “Peaches” sign with rotting fruit on the roof–– what’s obvious about that? Eggleston makes us take a second look, It’s obvious there’s more to this exhibition than meets the eye. Don’t miss it.

William Eggelston
At War with the Obvious

Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Ave.
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Tuesday, February 26 to
Sunday, July 28, 2013
Hours: Tues - Sun 9:30 - 5:30; Fri, Sat to 9 pm.

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