This Christmas holiday came with an urge to revisit some of my photo books, and for some reason I wanted to look at color photographs. I don’t really know how many photobooks I have, at least 40, and many are all or partly in color. But I was going for something very specifically in color. Something where the color is a big and conscious part of the photographs, and where the compositions of colors means at least as much as the compositions of shapes and of tones.
I knew right away which two books I was going to revisit. The first is by William Eggleston and the second is by William Albert Allard. Eggleston is of course one of the most famous photographers ever; Allard is famous, but not quite as much as Eggleston is. There are quite a few similarities. They both became well-known when they began shooting exclusively in color in the 70’ies. The 70’ies was (I think) the first century where color film really became common and with good quality. And it took some new photographers to bring color into photography as not just a coloration of a black and white photography.
The photo above by Allard is at the same time just perfect and (I think) iconic and then also almost too much. The yellow and the red letters are perfect together and the yellow against the green is so cool; the woman’s dress is an echo of the colors on the wall! Allard writes about the coincidence of color: "Time and again I would see examples of how the colors of this place and the appearance of its people were virtually interwoven". I just love that! I can be so good it is too much, but heck, it is pleasing. Such coincidences of colors is a big part of what makes a color photograph something extra. Eggleston does it a lot as well, of course, just usually not quite as obvious.
I only have one early book of Eggleston while I have a tome with a five decades retrospective of Allard so I may be pushing my conclusions, but I think there is another big similarity between the two: they use their photography to show something about a place. And color is part of that tool. They show landscape, but usually the cultural landscape, and they show people.
This photo by Eggleston is one of my favorites. Not that much color really, but still so much a color photograph. There are coincidence of color, but as often with Eggleston, there is also coincidence of shape. It is just great as they stand alike, and how the car door mimics the arms, and how their legs mimics the threes. Again almost too much, but this is for sure an iconic image.
I also think there is a distance in this photograph as there is in most of Eggleston’s photographs. That has nothing to do with color, of course, but is something specific about Eggleston. A bit more about that at the end of this blog post.
My book by Eggleston is “William Eggleston’s Guide”, and was published together with the exhibition at Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1976. This is big art and it was one of the most influential exhibitions; the book is a classic. Just look at the tricycle photograph at the cover of the book – you probably have seen it even if you don’t know Eggleston. The colors a cool, the composition simple and centered. The tricycle is an object - it rules the world even more than the big American cars that are on several photographs inside the book. The book is small and neat and one of my favorites – the foreword is the usual babble that is so common in many photo books, especially if published by a museum.
What do I like most, Allard or Eggleston? There are lot of similarities, and they are all about colors, but they are also completely different photographers. Allard is about compassion, instinct and intellect. Eggleston is about observation, expression and intellect. It has been just so great to rediscover both the two books!