Life More Ordinary

For less than $15, anybody can buy a disposable camera, take 24 shots and pay someone to develop them in an hour. Instant art. It's understandable why some people refuse to consider color photography as a serious art form. It's the "works on paper" version of marking a piece of construction paper with a crayon. Even William Eggleston, now known as the father of color photography, faced the dismissal of color photos as fine visual art. In a review of Eggleston's 1976 exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, for which MOMA's photography department curator John Szarkowski labeled Eggleston's work "perfect," New York Times art critic Hilton Kramer rejected his photographs with "Perfect? Perfectly banal, perhaps. Perfectly boring, certainly."

Even if you love Eggleston's work, it's easy to see where Szarkowski is coming from. These are simple color photos taken in everyday situations; the subjects could be a neighbor, a former teacher, that obnoxious kid down the street. In William Eggleston: The Los Alamos Project, an exhibit of early works at the Dallas Museum of Art, there's a grocery store employee rounding up carts, condiments on a walk-up order window ledge, a car parked next to a building with a strangely placed oval window. In description, they're nothing special. They could be the accidental vacation photos that don't make it into the family album. Or the test shots from frame one of several rolls of film. But, America, this is your life: little moments, tiny views, shown in full color and framed beautifully to give a peek into a story. If there's no great meaning there, it's not this passer-by's fault. He's just taking the pictures, not creating the scene.

Eggleston likes to call his process of photographing "democratic." He shoots everything, from the angry wrinkled woman in front of a colorful tiled wall to a curvaceous bottle sitting on a shiny car hood. He's spent his life walking neighborhoods of suburbs and big towns; his lens has held famous architecture and side-street dives. This obsession with the ordinary has resulted in his photographs being compared to Andy Warhol's paintings. Both take the mundane and make it art. Make the boring and banal mesmerizing and mysterious. Not just anyone--disposable camera or thousand-dollar digital one--can do that.

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Shannon Sutlief