Photo by William Eggleston, 1939-2009
If anyone ever wondered why I (and probably hundreds, if not thousands of other photographic artists) have taken the photos I do, and why I print them in color, all I can say is that, without realizing it, I was following in the footsteps of William Eggleston, who died this week. Before he came along, photographic art was always black and white, while color photography was the province of its lesser cousin, commercial art. Then in 1976, MOMA held an exhibit of Eggleston’s work that caused a stir, to say the least. Not only were his photos printed in color, their subjects were ordinary, prosaic objects and people. Critics of the exhibit were unstinting in their derision. Photographers like Walker Evans called color photography “vulgar,” and one critic described Eggleston’s exhibit as “the most hated show of the year.”
As the French say, “plus ca change, plus le meme chose,” which means that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Admittedly, I show most of my own photography in Rhode Island, which is not the Big Apple, but in the half-decade or so that I have been seriously making photographic art, color photographic art, I have been on the receiving end of similar skepticism. First it was the issue of whether any photography is “real” art. Then it was whether digital photography was “real” photography. Then it was the issue of where digital photography left off, and digital art began, meaning that at some point on the continuum of computer manipulation, when does an image leave the realm of straight photography and occupy a different artistic category?
The above image is one of mine, which has been accepted and shown in juried art shows, which means that it was judged worthy of being considered a work of art by some other artist. I’ve been very lucky that so much of my work has garnered validation and even an award here and there in such a short time. But I have noticed that there is still an academic bias toward black and white photography, toward “formal” photography, toward film photography, that does not reward work like mine or Eggleston’s. When his work was received with so much hostility, Mr. Eggleston, a Southern gentleman, simply did not care. He didn’t change his work or his vision. He stuck to his guns. He will be remembered by many photographers, who, perhaps without knowing it, have expressed in our work a love of Americana, of rusty old trucks and ordinary folk, of whimsical roadside signs and unintended irony, that owes its perseverance to his own enduring inspiration. Thank you, Mr. Eggleston, for blazing the trail and for setting such a fine example. The next time my work is beaten out for a spot on the gallery wall or an art prize by some silver gelatin print or black-and-white landscape or formal portrait, I will quote another Southern gentleman and say, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
“Weekend Projects” by Kathi Kolb
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