William Eggleston: Selected Works from The Democratic Forest

Art Scene

William Eggleston: Selected Works from The Democratic Forest

William Eggleston appears to be having a moment in popular culture. In late October, a feature story in the ‘Greats’ issue of the New York Times’ T Magazine, and a solo show at blue chip gallery David Zwirner, reiterated the photographer’s reigning title as the godfather of color photography.

The exhibition at David Zwirner, titled William Eggleston: Selected Works from The Democratic Forest, is his first showing with the gallery as his exclusive worldwide representative. Known for his unpremeditated approach and a samurai-like capacity to shape an image through composition and form, Eggleston’s work speaks a language all its own.


The Democratic Forest is a vast and soaring project that includes 10,000 negatives shot in the mid-1980s that visualize the southern and eastern United States and several European countries. Nearly 50 images from this body of work are on view at David Zwirner; several of which have never been exhibited. In the curation, Eggleston’s use of the term” democratic,” referencing a photographic eye that captures both the vernacular and the sophisticated in an equal light, becomes overwhelmingly evident in his poetic rendering of mundane content.

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Images unfold across four interconnected rooms and one separate room. The four-room constellation houses untitled images that read like an oversized art book. Only two of the images in this spread feature human beings; one image of Eggleston’s son reading a gun magazine against a red background, and one of African American teenagers socializing behind the windows of a yellow school bus.


The lack of people in the remaining images slowly generates a self-conscious role for visitors in the exhibition space – engaged viewers embedded in a duty to not only ‘look’ at the work, but to ‘see’ the work. There appears to be an invitation and a facilitation to become the photographer’s eye and to maneuver through a labyrinth of multiple intuitive moments.


One begins to understand how color is a natural part of life that is quite often taken for granted because of its ubiquitousness; and to, perhaps, even contemplate how much sight without color could dim the magic of life. Several of the images seem to work with three primary colors and a neutral color, often represented by cement or a faded sky. Lines play off each other creating perpendicular relationships, angles and depth. At times, curves present themselves as the dominant force in a frame, contained by their rectilinear counterparts.

Red, blue, green, and yellow, with occasional nods to browns, oranges and pinks, run consistently throughout the work. This somewhat constricted color palette creates a cohesiveness that helps viewers experience a unified world amidst an ever changing milieu of everyday objects, architectural details, and public and private environments.


Despite the work’s 1980s moment of creation, which could feel dated, it offers a refreshingly relevant counterpoint to today’s incessant social media chatter. Eggleston’s combination of a prescient use of color, allegiance to formal qualities, and intuitive action, is in fact a pleasurable reprieve into a wide open space of undistracted resonance with presence. The Democratic Forest is on display at David Zwirner through December 17, 2016.

Photos by Anders Jones