Exhibition review: WILLIAM EGGLESTON: HIS CIRCLE & BEYOND, Brian Richman.

 Review of “WILLIAM EGGLESTON: HIS CIRCLE & BEYOND” at the “Photographs Do Not Bend” (PDNB) Gallery, Dallas.

This exhibition has run since early September and ends on November the 9th at the well-known PDNB gallery in the Design District of Dallas, Texas.

PDNB under the guidance of Burt Finger, has earned a good reputation in North Texas for showing photographs from many big names in contemporary and from the history of Photography. While I was viewing the exhibition, a class was arriving for an educational visit, so in the very best traditions of photography, learning is a big part of what happens there.

So to the exhibition itself. There are some three to four dozen images on the walls to see. Most are large prints and one or two are actually quite small; almost postcard size. There are images from nine other photographers to see as well as a number from Eggleston himself. I was pleased to see works by William Christianberry, Peter Brown, Birney Imes and Neil Slavin to name just four. It’s impossible to choose who to name without omitting someone just as worthy, as the images are all simply so good. 

At the technical level, you can see the quality of the Dye Transfer process in them all. Nearly all the prints on display are between two and three feet long on the shortest edge yet grain is obvious by its almost total absence. You would really need to be using medium format in the digital world to produce images as clean and as deep in terms of color gamut as these. Don’t let anyone tell you that film is not capable of producing results as outstanding as those on display here. I would like to say that the differences between the Dye Transfer prints from Eggleston and the Chromogenic and C-prints from all the rest were really visible, but to be honest, both types of print were exceptionally well executed with small, barely noticeable differences. 

Eggleston is renowned for bringing color to American art photography and breaking down the prejudice of “if its color then it’s just a snap-shot” that was so prevalent in the middle of the last century. Pictures such as “Yellow Flowers Hilside, California” from 1978, are clearly only about the color and when you stand in front of the image in real life, it just drives shafts of raw color into your eyes, with absolutely no mercy. In complete contrast to these bright colors, “Blue truck with Wisteria, Memphis” is a study in subtly and shows just how Eggleston was able to turn the saturation dial down and still produce images that shout color mastery at you. 

Apart from just about everything from Eggleston, some other stand outs on display are “The Seneca” by Alex Soth, Birney Imes with Arcola Café and David Graham’s Lambertville are images that remained in my mind while driving home. Another of my favorite photographers, William Christenberry is best represented here by his “Side of Warehouse, Newbern, Alabama” image that shows a mastery of the color brown, the many shades of which are impossible to fully appreciate online. Seeing the print in person lets you understand how many additional shades of this color there are. This is truly the work of a master on display along with many other masters of this art.

The almost casual treatment of situation by these photographers typified Bill Owens in “Bourbon and Seven is my favorite drink” leaves the viewer with the impression that that almost anyone could have taken the shot from the kitchen while the family is outside in the garden at play. Nothing could be further from the truth of course. Many of the other images are actually without people or like “The Busy Bee Café” by Birney Imes, is one where people, although present are not even required to understand the picture. The blurred treatment of the men on the left side of the image nicely balances the sharp poster on the wall on the right. Again, a masterful treatment of composition and color, knowing when to break any rules or guidelines.

This exhibition is one where the images are a fantastic reference work for anyone who wants to study the style of photography since the 1970’s in America, where color, place and composition are king so mastered by photographers from the Southern states, not so much classic portraiture or street photography. If you happen to be in Dallas while this exhibition is on, you could do worse than spending 30 or 45 minutes on Dragon Street at Photographs Do not Bend.