Book club: ’Chromes’ explores William Eggleston’s love affair with colour

Book club: ’Chromes’ explores William Eggleston’s love affair with colour

William Eggleston has a self-imposed rule when it comes to his photographic process - he famously restricts himself to only ever taking one picture of one thing. This somewhat spartan point-and-shoot approach and his subsequent glorification of the mundane has influenced everyone from Juergen Teller and Wolfgang Tillmans to Martin Parr and Wallpaper* contributor Nigel Shafran. A new tome, entitled ’Chromes’, revolves around his early experimentation with colour and composition between 1969 and 1974, at a time when ’black and white’ was still the byword for art photography.

Steidl’s meaty volume in three cloth-bound parts, with text by curator Thomas Weski, presents Eggleston’s early Memphis imagery. It reflects on his stellar depiction of Southern America in the 1970s, which still prompts scores of fans to head out on US road-trips seeking to capture their own piece of the ’Americana’ pictorial pie.

Designed by Gerhard Steidl and Eggleston and put together with the help of his sons, William Eggleston III and Winston, the publication brings together over 5,000 Kodachromes and Ektachromes (the transparency films that used to be the standard in the 1960s and 1970s).

Unearthed from the Eggleston Artistic Trust archives, most of these prints have never been published before. Which is why one such hidden gem - a photograph of an electric blue ceiling - acts as a compelling counterpoint to his most famous photograph, ’The Red Ceiling’.

Memphis-born Eggleston’s love affair with colour and subsequent pioneering of the use of dye-transfer prints have come to define the arresting saturated hues seen in most of his daytime photographs. Lesser seen, are his night shots, which the book offers an intruiging glimpse of.

The weight of ’Chromes’ is profound. The last time the archive was used was by John Szarkowski, who selected a more modest 48 prints which eventually formed the landmark ’William Eggleston’s Guide’, the volume that followed his groundbreaking solo show of colour prints at New York’s MoMA.

Eggleston has never been one to title, date or even identify his photographs, and ’Chromes’ effortlessly traces the themes and subject matter which became Eggleston’s signature without putting too much weight on chronological order. Ultimately, it points to the way his eye saw images in a broader scale, which led to his unrivalled knack at creating a balanced composition out of seemingly random unconnected objects in all his photographs.

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