Glimpses as revelations
This show of some early work of the pioneer of color photography, William Eggleston, reveals how much more he was than a colorist in his art, for his gift is dedicated to glimpses of the unvarnished ordinary in life with a lens that magically locates meaning in sights that most of us might turn away from, from deserted landscapes, rusting cars hidden in undergrowth, to portraits of people caught up in unselfconscious existence amid the materialistic starvation of their spirit, where his self refined dye transfer color process is called into service to add meaning rather than enhance realism, and, matched by his genius in framing the everyday details of neglected lives as if they were gems of literary significance in perfectly balanced settings, return the viewer to a long ago lost sense that the world is fundamentally in order underneath the supposedly newsworthy cacophony of conflicting social drives and prejudices, in a place where nature rules and humanity flowers quietly out of the limelight, and the inner and outer beauty of a youth pushing supermarket carts (above) or Eggleston’s wife suckling her baby (not in the show here) or an uncle and his black chauffeur standing by his polished car as if they were three members of a family group, are all caught at the essential moment of insight by a photographer who notes the quotidian and unimportant and rather miraculously manages to construct and capture these scenes and images in one try only, we are told, without taking multiple shots in the modern digital manner, and it is hard to leave this exhibition without vowing to becoming a latter day Eggleston on Instagram.
The American photographer William Eggleston (born 1939) emerged in the early 1960s as a pioneer of modern color photography. Now, 50 years later, he is arguably its greatest exemplar. William Eggleston: Los Alamos will feature a landmark gift to The Met by Jade Lau of the artist’s most notable portfolio, Los Alamos. Comprising 75 dye transfer prints from color negatives made between 1965 and 1974, the series has never been shown in its entirety in New York City and includes the artist’s first color photograph (Untitled, Memphis, 1965) of a young clerk pushing a train of shopping carts at a supermarket in Memphis, Tennessee.
The exhibition includes lush color studies of the social and physical landscape of the Mississippi delta region, which remains the artist’s home, as well as studies made during numerous road trips with his friends Walter Hopps and Dennis Hopper—to New Orleans, New Mexico, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. On these journeys, the artist explored the awesome and, at times, raw visual poetics of the American vernacular. Los Alamos will also include as a counterpoint a small suite of Eggleston’s rarely seen black-and-white photographs from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s that the artist made concurrently with Los Alamos.