I vividly remember my first introduction to the photographs of William Eggleston. At the time, I was early into my journey as a photographer, and I grappled with both his compositions and his content. I studied his enigmatic 1970 portrait of a tricycle. I related to the picture on several levels: as a free-range kid of the 60’s whose main mode of transportation was always a beloved banana seat bicycle; as the mother of two boys who loved to fly down the driveway on their Big Wheels; as one half of a married couple struggling to attain the American dream of a house in the suburbs, a family, and a car in the garage. That photo summarized all that was good about family life in the 70’s and maybe all that was not-so-good, too. Regardless, it made a lasting impression on me. It’s one of those photographs I can call up in my memory.
A little research on the photo:
Eggleston’s tricycle first attracted attention as part of a 1976 exhibition of his work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It appeared, in fact, on the cover of the exhibition catalog, William Eggleston’s Guide. “The most hated show of the year,” one critic wrote. “Guide to what?” detractors sniffed about a show whose photographic subjects also included a tiled bathroom wall, the interior of a kitchen stove and the contents of a freezer. Hilton Kramer called Eggleston’s images “perfectly banal” and “perfectly boring.” Kramer, the New York Times’ chief art critic, was playing off of John Szarkowski, MoMA’s director of photography, who had described Eggleston’s photographs as “perfect.” Instead of perfection, Kramer saw “dismal figures inhabiting a commonplace world of little visual interest.” —Mark Feeney, Smithsonian.com
It’s reassuring to study the works of master photographers like Eggleston. The subjects in many of my own photographs are commonplace. But this doesn’t mean they lack visual interest or fail to tell a story. In fact, I would argue that these are the most meaningful elements of our lives.
There is no accounting for taste. Make the pictures that you love and love the pictures you make.