Book Review: William Eggleston’s Guide

William Eggleston’s Guide by William Eggleston.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

I’ve been an admirer of William Eggleston’s colour photography for many years, and have a couple of his photobooks in my collection, including a book of his portraits. William Eggleston’s Guide is considered by some to be a seminal work in the development of colour photography during the 1970s.

A viewer looking at the photographs in the book back in the seventies would have had a very different reaction to someone going through the book today. They would have been familiar back then, but five decades have passed since these photographs were taken, and any interpretation of them today is bound to be coloured as we look through our lens of nostalgia. The cars, the interiors, the fashions, everything looks dated, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of romanticising how great things must have been back then.

There’s no doubt Eggleston is one of the great colour photographers of his time, and some of the images are unforgettable, imbued with his signature snapshot-aesthetic style with the subject dead-centre. Many of the pictures look like lucky family snaps, and I wonder if they would stand out as art if they were presented to someone in a shoebox at a flea market. A photographer would be able to recognise qualities like the fine exposure and processing, and would probably acknowledge some of them were good, interesting pictures.

For me, the power of this book is in the editing and sequencing of the images. Presented as a collection they have a synergy that would be lacking in the individual images. In fact, the same could be said of almost any professional photobook. The edit and sequence is what brings a body of work to life, making us flick back and forth as we make up our own stories about what we see.

William Eggleston’s Guide contains a mix of subjects: semi-desolate landscapes, haunting portraits, lush interiors, and almost everything in between. I would recommend it to anyone interested in photography and photobooks. Those not familiar with Eggleston’s work will be enlightened to the possibilities that can present themselves while walking around with a camera, open eyes, and an open mind.

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