Related Articles: Museums, All

William Eggleston: Los Alamos

Everywhere is Anywhere

William Eggleston: Los Alamos at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is a small gem of a show and required viewing for any serious student of photography. The dye transfer prints featured in the exhibit are from a recently rediscovered series of eighty-eight photographs taken by the artist in the mid-sixties to mid-seventies in Memphis, Tennessee and from a series of road trips through the American South. Considered by many to be the "father of color photography," Eggleston's saturated, snapshot-style photographs of automobiles, storefronts, and parking lots are beautiful yet wholly unromantic portraits of ordinary American life.

Eggleston's work shocked the photography establishment when it was first exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1976. He used color film, at that time considered too commercial for fine art photography. Color offered a realism that seemed distasteful to a viewing public accustomed to the aura of black and white film. Eggleston's photographs were not only in color, they were in gaudy, super saturated color. The photographer had a bull's eye for fire truck reds and sickly greens, and they form the basis of the Los Alamos color palette.

The every day objects and places Eggleston's chose to photograph -- litter, gas stations and burger joints -- was also a departure. He sniffed out the abandoned parts of the city cataloguing rust and peeling paint. Like Walker Evans before him, Eggleston took an interest in billboards and hand painted signs. Made with no clear motive his photographs exist neither to pass judgment on nor to dignify their subjects. One gets the feeling that he saw what pleased his eye, took a photograph, and moved on.

Las Vegas, 1965-68 is a photograph of a headless, legless mannequin in a yellow, see-through teddy. Taken in a ramshackle storefront window, it is an altogether different image than one usually conjures when thinking of the city. Eggleston is never specific about place. Though the vast majority of his photographs are taken in the South they could have just as well been taken in Detroit or Pittsburgh. Everywhere is anywhere.

The exhibit is rounded out by a group of photographs from the artist's career drawn from the museum's permanent collection as well as a small group of photographs by artists in generations before and after Eggleston including Walker Evans, Stephen Shore, Sally Mann, and Alec Soth.