PHOTOGRAPHER William Eggleston has a good thing going. If we like one of his pictures, he takes the credit. If we don't like it, we get the blame.
Others "want something obvious," says Eggleston, 51, in the book from which his current Corcoran exhibition is taken. "I am at war with the obvious."
And he is winning. While the show includes some nice landscapes, cityscapes, color abstractions and snapshots, it isn't at all obvious why many of these photographs were taken.
"There was no picture there," Eggleston says of one photographic foray into his beloved Southern countryside. "But of course there was something for someone out there. I forced myself to start taking pictures."
He calls this "photographing democratically," which Corcoran curator Frances Fralin says refers to the camera's ability to represent everything equally. Well, okay, but as was said of the beatniks, to accept all is to reject all.
Next to one of Eggleston's conventional landscapes may appear a leafy abstract, and beyond that an apparently pointless or randomly composed street scene. He works in color, which somehow undermines many if not most of the shots; whether or not the colors we're shown are true, the eye tends to doubt them. Perhaps this is because real-life hues change from moment to moment, making the fixed colors of even the most faithful photograph seem artificial.
The vagueness of Eggleston's conception is echoed by poet/photographer Eudora Welty, whose introduction to Eggleston's photographs tells us things she doesn't know. Beside containing such misspellings as "caloused" and "abandonner," and such affectations as "kerb", "tyre" and "colour," Welty's commentary misidentifies the subjects of at least two of the photographs. What she refers to as the front end of a sports car comes from a '51 Ford pickup truck. And what Welty calls "initials attesting to that mysterious thing, original ownership," are Roman numerals carved by a carpenter to mark pre-fitted house beams for later pegging in place.
These are hardly earthshaking errors, but if Welty doesn't know what a picture shows, how can she presume to tell us what it means? Why do such mistakes appear in a $50 book being promoted by a major art museum? Is anyone paying attention?
THE DEMOCRATIC FOREST:Photographs by William Eggleston. Through Feb. 24 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 17th Street and New York Avenue NW. 202/638-3211. Open 10 to 4:30 Tuesday through Sunday and 10 to 9 Thursdays. Admission is $3 for adults, $2 seniors and students and free for ages under 18. Metro: Farragut West. Call ahead for wheelchair access.