on color and the democratic camera

I begin by once again extolling the virtues of the public library. In our area, there are several branches of a larger central or headquarters library, and each branch has different books that reside within as their home, though all books may travel from one branch to the other as requested. So, you can see, it would never do for me to go to only one branch, I like to visit them all, as each presents something new to me. On a recent stop at the headquarters branch, I came across a beautiful photography book, William Eggleston, The Hasselblad Award 1998.

The forward and introductory essays of this book offer a fascinating history of photography, and in particular color photography.

From The Tender-Cruel Camera by Thomas Weski –

Eggleston’s use of color in his photographs is unspectacular, incidental. He uses it so subtly that we are no longer aware of it as a separate component of the process by which we perceive an object visually. “What makes his photographs of nonevents especially meaningful is his use of color to convey the ‘feel’ of a particular place. He emphasizes hues that soak the scene or resonate in a critical way, virtually creating effects of sound, silence, smell, temperature, pressure – sensations that black-and-white photography has yet to evoke.”

And it is these sentences on subject matter which help me to understand that I have Eggleston and photographers like him to thank for the freedom in my own picture-taking.

The choice of subject matter seemed to some critics to be totally indiscriminate, as though William Eggleston had applied no criteria at all. “Eggleston’s photographs often seem to have been taken not by a photographer but by a motorized camera swinging around the photographer’s head on a string. Whatever happened to be in front of the lens when the shutter was tripped got photographed. Whatever was not, did not.”
Eggleston speaks again and again of the ‘democratic camera’ which considers every object worthy of depiction. Naturally, this seemingly impersonal way of seeing things makes no distinction between “beautiful” and “ugly”.

When William Eggleston's exhibition, "Color Phototgraphs" opened at The Museum of Modern Art in May 1976, it received negative reviews on all counts - form, content and execution. Critics labeled the photographs as unacceptable, amateurish, banal, boring, and mere snapshots.

As it turns out, our worst enemy is a closed mind.

In essence, I take photographs like these – subjective views from the City Docks on a foggy morning – hoping to enable the reader to relate emotionally to these places and to understand the meanings that dwell within them.