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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.

William Eggleston Exhibition

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.

William Eggleston The Democratic Forest William Eggleston The Democratic Forest

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.

William Eggleston People Looking at Prints

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.

William Eggleston The Democratic Forest

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.

William Eggleston The Democratic Forest

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