Book Review: Before Color by William Eggleston

The South: diced and sliced

With an initial flick through these pages you could be looking at Eggleston's 'Guide' or 'Ancient and modern' or 'The Democratic Forest', only these three books are all color. 'Before color' will give you an idea about the origins of Eggleston's style of capturing commonplace and overall I thought it was an interesting selection, though in the nature of this kind of project some photos really stand out and others seem rather marginal.

My favorites are the urban landscape of street scenes, retail units and houses. The interiors, whether commercial premises or homes seem to lack the punch and vitality of the outside shots. The three all color books I've mentioned are almost all exterior images.

The 152 photos have been scanned from Eggleston's original prints (and here they are printed as 175 screen quadratones) and I found it interesting to see how the texture varied from photo to photo. Some have a stippled appearance ( two military personnel, page 94/95 or office equipment, page 128/129) a newly built house (pages 74/75) looks as if you were standing in front of it in real-life because the detail is so precise or the very soft look of three teenagers at a wedding (page 193). Two night photos on pages 162/163 have incredible contrast unlike anything else in the book. Eggleston, by doing his own black and white prints, seems to be experimenting with the textures it's possible to get with various photographic papers.

As this is a photo book there is the usual essay at the start of the book. I find, from experience that these seem to fall into two categories: the extremely informative, like John Szarkowski's in 'William Eggleston's Guide' or the very generalized as the three pages by Dave Hickey in this book. It's called 'Deconstructing reconstruction: Eggleston in before color' and says very little including stuff like this:
'The shadowless, white urban symmetries and green arboreal chaos dissolve into the smooth grisaille of penultimate entropy'.
'So the pleasure we derive from these photographs bears with it a cautionary obbligato about the horrors of careless ennui'.
I wish art book publishers would stick to a critic's overview of the artist or subject and forget about anything from others.

Because much of Eggleston's work in these photos suggests his searching and experimenting for a style that eventually exploded with his amazing color work I think the book is more for the confirmed fan rather than others.

Before Color is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN)

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Title spread, where there should have been a photo.

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