‘I once heard William Eggleston say that the nominal subjects of his pictures were no more than a pretext for the making of color photographs – the Degas position. I did not believe him, although I can believe that it might be an advantage to him to think so, or to pretend to think so. To me it seems that the pictures reproduced here are about the photographer’s home, about his place, in both important meanings of that word. One might say about his identity’.
Introduction to William Eggleston’s Guide by John Szarkowski, 1967
Since the MoMA press release announcing the exhibition and the related publication in 1976, the Guide has been published many times – and although we do know that a book should not be judged by its cover, that tricycle is hard to forget.
William Eggleston’s Guide features 48 images selected from the 375 that the photographer had taken between 1969 and 1971. The subjects are friends and family, the streets of Memphis and its environs. Rather than a social document, it is a diary.
Eggleston leads us around: we meet a lady in a flashy dress and cat-eye glasses, sitting with her legs crossed on an equally flamboyant couch, abandoned on the side of the road. We slow down to observe the curves of a gleaming black fender; again, we stare at a gray-haired woman, dressed in a faded floral robe. She is standing, waiting for something, framed in a large dark doorway of a room with mint green walls.
This exhibition – and the related book – forced the art world to confront itself with color photography, until then regarded as amateurish, suitable just for family albums.
This marked the beginning of a new era.