Sally Eauclair's milestone book The New Color Photography, compiled and edited by Eauclair in 1981 was the first book of serious (for want of a better word) photography that I had ever come across. The book contained, to me, fresh new voices. Eggleston in particular was a revelation. The book and the work it contained resonated with me because many of the photographs seemed so similar to the pictures I was trying to make at the time.
Although now almost 35 years have passed, the best pictures in the book still hold up.
What I didn't know at the time was that there was also a show of the work, to support the book, at ICP New York. On November 8, 1981 The New York Times published a rather jaundiced review of that show. The exhibition includes the works of 45 younger photographers who have come to the attention of the art-loving public since 1970, some as well known as William Eggleston, Jan Groover, Joel Meyerowitz, Lucas Samaras, Stephen Shore and Eve Sonneman, others still relatively unknown. It also includes the works of two older photographers, Harry Callahan and Helen Levitt, who have made new starts in color photography in the 1970's.
This is important because there is a wide range of styles, subjects and approaches in this exhibition. Landscapes predominate, but there are also still lifes, portraits and what used to be called genre subjects, pictures in which groups of people are shown engaged in everyday activities. Some of the pictures are obviously carefully posed, while others are caught on the wing. Some of the photographers work with large format view cameras, while others use small hand-held cameras.
The moods vary from romantic to jokey, with a touch of the sinister here and there. Indeed, there is enough variety in this show to make it difficult to characterize it as a whole. About the only thing some of the photographers in this show have in common is that they work with color film and eschew the kind of hand work that so many other young photographers practice today. That and the fact that all of them first came to public attention not through publication in the mass media but by exhibiting in museums and art galleries.
And then there is Eggleston. It is sometimes said that he is compiling a pictorial guide to his native southland, and to be sure, some part of his native southland is often visible through his viewfinder when he presses the button. But why he chose that part rather than another is an impenetrable mystery - which could not be said of a magazine photographer. A magazine photographer has to please an editor and a public, and the point of his picture has to be reasonably clear. An art photographer, however, does not have to please anyone but himself - and the curators, dealers and collectors who make his career - and therefore he can be as obscure as he likes. Eggleston has said that he takes pictures because he has to do something to fill up the time, and that is what his photographs too often look like.
You can read the complete New York Times review HERE. You can still get hold of copies of The New Color Photography, here is a link to amazon.
Also strangely included in New Color is David Hockney and the French photographer Bernard Faucon. And New Zealander Boyd Webb gets coverage. Others names have quietly faded into the background of the medium.
Eauclaire published two subsequent bookworks - new color / new work in 1984 and American Independents in 1987. Both books worth checking out.