Wednesday, February 4, 2009

William Eggleston Democratic Camera: Photographs and Video 196-2006

William Eggleston. Heard of him? I think you have so I won't waste your time with repeating his story but the thick catalog that accompanies his retrospective at the Whitney Museum is worth spending a bit of time over. At 304 pages, William Eggleston Democratic Camera: Photographs and Video 196-2006 is a substantial contribution to the discussion of this quirky artist much like Figments from the Real World was for Winogrand or Peter Galassi's exercise in the extreme was for Lee Friedlander.

The first thing one notices with Democratic Camera is the dustjacket. Now, choosing an image that will be the face put forward for a life's work can be tricky business to say the least. One might jump to certain obvious mainstream 'hits' from the artist's career. For Eggleston this might be say, the tricycle picture (cover of the 'Guide'), or the woman with the red hair at the concession counter (Hasselblad Award). The red ceiling picture (Foundation Cartier). Obviously you wouldn't choose one of those for this cover too but you get the idea. OR you can pick a lesser known image, you know he has tens of thousands laying around. But what they decided upon would have been my last choice - the dolls lined up on the Cadillac hood. The paper stock has a glossy finish too. For a book on David Byrne? Perfect match. Here, I'm not loving it.

Getting into the body of the book, it starts off decent enough with the ubiquitous Sponor's Statement and Directors' Forword, a preface, and onto the first essay by Thomas Weski which gives an extensive peek into Eggleston's background and practice. Finely written, it serves both newcomers and Eggleston aficionados well and is the most substantial of the essays included.

A second text by Elisabeth Sussman discusses his video work with the Sony-PortaPak and the rarely seen 'Stranded in Canton.' This footage, over 72 hours in total, has been edited into a 76 minute rough cut video from which many stills are reproduced. As a side note, small book from Twin Palms has been published which reproduces many stills as well as includes a DVD of Stranded in Canton.

The 'plates' section starts off with 9 of his early black and white photographs mostly made around shopping centers - 6 of which were unknown to me. These early photos follow in the traditions of Bresson and Winogrand and are fine examples with much merit. I think this set up makes his turn to color seem all the more important in terms of taking a risk as he was mining a good vein in black and white as well.

The selection of plates is a good mix of familiar and not. Although printed by Steidl, some of the reproductions do suffer from slight heaviness and others seem murky. The aforementioned girl with the red hair at the concession stand image has had all of the golden tone of sunlight somehow drained away and the image of the young black children along the roadside is dreadfully reproduced out of focus.

The back of the book features three short essays by Donna De Salvo, Tina Kukielski, and Eggleston's long-time friend Stanley Booth. One that I particularly enjoyed was Donna De Salvo's dedication to discussing one image - the photo of the plastic toy animals from the 14 Pictures portfolio published in 1974. It was this image in particular that made Eggleston a complete mystery to me when I was in school and is an example of how my view of him has swung dramatically. That picture drew an almost irrational response of anger from me when I first saw it. Like my father when visiting the MoMA asked if I thought Picasso was putting us on, I couldn't see any merit to that photograph. Today, it is one that I can't shake and think of often with enjoyment because it so easily confounds by appearing silly or overly simple. Deeper consideration proves otherwise yet the image seems so understated that it doesn't invite such consideration easily.

Of course all of my criticisms are subjective and aimed primarily at the choices of design and material but the overall feel of this book is a turn off. The paper, which I think has been flood varnished (a process of coating the entire page as opposed to spot varnish which just covers the photos) has a very glossy appearance which I don't like. Did I mention I hate the dustjacket?

Is it true that this is the first retrospective of Eggleston in the United States? If so it has been much needed as his influence has spread to many outside of the medium, especially those in filmmaking. He is now the stuff of legend partly due to his persona with its air of Southern aristocracy, ever present libations, and his speech pattern which has the slowness of a spilt molasses/quaalude paste. Unfortunately, those that put together this catalog drained some of this added charm from the project and what is presented seems clinical and plastic - much like the dolls that grace the cover.


Jan V said...

When I saw this catalogue in our local bookshop last week, I first tought it was some new, unannounced Taschen-edition.

a mind with no ceiling said...

I agree about the dustjacket, of course. But maybe the energy was put into the exhibition? Living in Paris, I'll probably have to fly to Munich if I want to make sure... so you new yorkers are at least lucky enough to compare the catalogue with the show!
That said, the best thing I've seen "around" Eggleston is the movie "By The Ways" by Vincent Gérard and Cédric Laty (no chauvinism here..). Not a traditional documentary at all, it is as mysterious and experimental yet simple as the man himself and his pictures. So far I'm not aware it has been released in DVD but I urge you to see it if you ever have the chance.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your opinion of the dust jacket.

I felt from the very beginning that a Eggleston retrospective would be a nearly impossible project. Anyone familiar with his massive, tantalizing and varied oeuvre (see would probably agree.

But I think this is a fine book, in that it accomplishes much more, at least in terms of study, than any other Eggleston book has, or probably ever will.

verninino said...

Wow Jeff. You completely channeled me on this one. Three weeks ago I was in midtown with some time to kill so I dropped into MoMA's bookstore.

Despite Szarkowski's siren entreaties, Eggleston is someone I'd never really made the effort to "get". The film IN THE REAL WORLD's portrayal of him as kind of a David Lynch character changed that a little. His illustrations for FAULKNER'S MISSISSIPPI changed that a lot. So when I started thumbing through DEMOCRATIC CAMERA it was like being forced to return to start. Like Eggleston himself it seems substantive yet kind of sprawls dubiously (image quality, print texture, and that repulsive sleeve). Sick of dust-collecting, sprawling tomes, I opted instead for Szarkowski's GUIDE. Finally, I felt ready.

A few weeks later treading time between shows at ICP's bookstore I happened on Sarah Greenough and the National Gallery's LOOKING IN: ROBERT FRANKS THE AMERICANS, EXPANDED EDITION. Another addition to the genre of museum-sponsored, career-spanning retrospections. Actually, I didn't happen on it, it leapt on me! I've got a bunch of Frank monographs at home, but like Eggleston, I wasn't really "getting" him either. Leafing through LOOKING IN's look back is changing that. The design, essays, and subject are as attuned as a symphony.

Too bad Eggleston didn't get a similar treatment. I blame the Whitney, too often they try too hard to be too eclectic and too hip, resulting in cacophony. Which I suppose suits some ears, but certainly not me.

J. Gossage said...


I like the book for it's pictures ( which are a great selection) not it's book craft.
But I thought you might might like a comment from one of the curators, at the Eggleston dinner at the Whitney. "The idiots at Yale Univ. Press made us use that awful cover" "They thought it would be more commercial".


Anonymous said...

"Living in Paris" you'll get the chance to see the fondation cartier show (of paris pics) in a month or so.

Federico said...

I agree entirely. I wanted so much to buy that book... until I saw it and leafed through it. The way the book is made makes it impossible for me to enjoy photographs I like.

Vincent Borrelli said...

I doubt Bill cares about the cover... he genuinely has no real preferences and leaves the editing to others... which makes me not care about the cover. vb

verninino said...

Well, Vincent, you know, Bill owns the originals and he was there when he captured them. And even if he doesn't care about the quality of the packaging and reproductions then the Whitney should, if not for the sake of Bill's legacy then for, I don't know, Art and future history of photobooks.

The book should be compelling. It should stand on its own; it should compel one to seek out an exhibit, an interview, a film or a handful of prints long after its exhibition run is over.

If the Whitney's indifferent to book quality, I think it's kind of silly to blame Yale. They could have exercised some professional and artistic license and vetoed them. YUP could print its own darn book.

Stuart Alexander said...

I agree with the criticism of the book. It is very important to get the color correction right. As you mention Jeff, it is erratic at best. But in this instance, Greg, the book is better than the exhibition.

I love Eggleston's work. He deserves a good retrospective. In order to understand what he was doing you need to be able to see the dye transfer prints in all their fully saturated glory. Unfortunately, the lighting at the Whitney was so dim that was impossible. One got the impression they lit the galleries for viewing light-sensitive 19th-century calotypes.

There was a randomness to the installation, especially in the large central room, that left the viewers with no idea where to turn or what to look at. Only the initiated had any idea of the importance of the 1976 MoMA exhibition, the 'Guide' and their contents. The installation did little to impress this upon the viewer and at the same time gave too much weight to the 'Stranded in Canton' video. I hope that the installation in Germany is better. I can't imagine how it could be worse. I am confident that our friends at the Corcoran will make an installation far superior to the Whitney's.

Vincent Borrelli said...

verninino, my comment was only about the image selection for the cover... truly, for Eggleston, one is as good and as interesting as the next. His words, not mine. I have no idea what he thinks about this book. In any case, the only Eggleston book that matters is The Guide, anyhow. That's where his legacy was made [by John S.] vb

Jeff Ladd said...


I agree about the odd arrangement but I regardless i really liked seeing all those dyes. The lighting didn't bother me so much. It was also odd seeing the huge recent prints.

I remember when Cheim Reid had a show of the 5x7 bar photos I was blown away by them. They are a technical feat alone. The fact that he was using a 5X7 camera with its characteristic of very shallow depth of field, focused close, shot in bars (even with the added depth of field from using flash we're talking inches) and with people moving even slightly, it isn't that the photos are just in focus but they are focused in exactly the right places. And on top of it all they are knock out photos. I found that amazing.

Anonymous said...

To the Europeans:

The Haus der Kunst/Munich exhibition is bound to be better. Thomas Weski is one of the few curators who really "gets" Eggleston. The other two greats were Walter Hopps and John Szarkowski.

To Mr. Borrelli:

The Guide is a landmark book, but saying that it's the only book that matters is crazy. Sure, it's where things really exploded for Eggleston, and (ahem) it has a nice resale value, but Los Alamos and 5x7 are both beautiful publications from just the past five years or so.

Anonymous said...

I think the book that serves Eggleston best is Los Alamos. A great production and a fine selection of images.

David C

Anonymous said...

I have liked Eggleston for years. Until about 10 years ago the only available books (in Paris) were The Democratic Forest and Ancient and Modern, most of the time on sale.
Then, the picturesque character became popular and more books were published. Among them, masterpieces such as 5X7, and others.
Quite recently, as it became obvious the great man's health wasn't too flourishing, there were these hommages, the DVDs, etc.. Not so bad obviously, but as with Robert Frank I feel a little dispossessed of my passion for his work. All the comments and marks of respect transform the man into a statue.

The most disconscerting is that I read no fundamentally new analysis of his works. Even the young guys on the blogs are conventional in their approach - what they seek seems to be a kind of capillar recognition.

All that to say I agree with your comment.
That book is not only dull : it has no point of view, no vision. That is a shame and a fault.

Anonymous said...

It is certainly true that the appeal of Eggleston's seems to be inversely proportional to the quantity of good writing about it (as opposed to, say, the work of Jeff, Wall or Cindy Sherman or Thomas Struth). Eggleston's work seems resistant to critical analysis or theoretical purchase - even Szarkowski's text strikes me as obscurantist and overestimated - but this itself is something that writers could try to address. The same could be said of the oeuvre of Lee Friedlander (beyond Martha Rosler's sharp essay from the 70s and Peter Galassi's MoMA overview I've read nothing of consequence on it).

David C

9/11 Truther said...

From my perspective, which is that of a non-professional and unschooled photographer, it was great to see 16 x 24 prints in their saturated glory. Especially in contrast to viewing photography on a computer, or even in photobooks. Here one is confronted again by the AURA of the art object, in Bill's case -- can I say "Bill"? -- the sensuousness of the color and also the revelation that there are aesthetic possiblities absolutely everywhere. Dallas Green once assessed his ballclub at Spring training, and announced that he "can't make chicken salad out of chickenshit." Well, artists can.

Now that it is mentioned, the light WAS dim, but perhaps the better to appreciate the color. Don't photographers prefer to avoid the mid-day sun? Nor am I one to read wall texts, or stand before an artwork for five minutes of meditation and contemplation. I like to breeze back and forth, backward and forward quickly. I don't care "to make sense" of an artist's career or importance or whatever. I like to just soak in the art, glean quickly one or two insights about how it was made. I like to read interviews with the artist in books.

Speaking of books, don't we already have a good few outstanding Eggleston photobooks? So that the disappointment with the Whitney book isn't a big deal? I agree with Gossage that the contents inside are a substantial representation, and reproduced at a good size, so it does have some value

Stuart Alexander said...


There is a big difference between 'seeing all those dyes' throw on the wall and seeing them (properly lit) in an intelligent and sensitive installation.

I had the privilege last fall, as anyone else who walked in off the street (no admission charge and obliquely announced on this blog), of spending four days looking at a terrific group of Eggleston dye transfer prints, well-lit and often out of the frame, including the five volume 'Los Alamos' portfolio.

To see good work up close you need only go to your nearest auction house. Sometimes, they are the best show in town.

Jeff Ladd said...

Certainly...I get few opportunities.

Incredibly I missed the eggleston preview days at christie's. I was very pleased however that I mentioned it to my students back then and a few actually went. I think they also appreciated the work a lot which isn't always the case with photo 1 students.

Anonymous said...

In the Democratic Forest, there's a picture of a yellow field - "Almost at the Mississippi River, Dyersburg, TN" (p.21). In the new Whitney book, the picture is reproduced as a light green field (p.209)- a huge difference. I didn't make it to the Whitney show to see a print of this image. Does anyone know how this photo is supposed to look?

Stuart Alexander said...

The original print falls pretty squarely in the middle between those extreme-end reproductions. It should be a fresh-growth green.

verninino said...

A good friend of mine who used to represent an auction house told me an open secret: that galleries, dealers and even museums are very receptive to inquiries from the general public to view works. Since then I occasionally ask to see works at my favorite galleries. Haven't tried museums, yet, but she's since left the auction house and still does it. I guess this only works if you live (or regularly visit) an art Mecca.

As for Eggleston. He's a pure poet.

When I was a kid for a time imagined the afterlife would be like randomly dropping in to your prior self without memory or the conscious experience of reliving the moment. So it would be all sensory experience. For me, Eggleston is like the visual channel of such a prehumous, episodic existence. A lot of his photographs eerily recall the small West Virginia town I grew up in in the 70s. Like a grace-filled, nostalgia-triggering poems, they are blast of nostalgic euphoria.

I hate, hate, hate surrealist photography (especially montages) because it feels too forced and fake. For me, Eggleston is the ultimate surrealist photographer; looking at high fidelity reproductions of his photographs feels like wandering in his shoes-- as him. It's an ineffable experience (which is why I don't put too much stock in the sweeping essays but I enjoy the video-ographies), it's a visual experience-- which is why I wish this book were better.

You fellas just talked me into buying LOS ALAMOS, finally.

Vincent Borrelli said...

To Anonymous:

My comment was in response to verninino's note about any effect the Whitney book would have on Bill's legacy. I think none. The Guide is what changed photography and is the publication that set his legacy (John Szarkowski's editing of his work made it so). I agree there are some great books of his work, including 5x7, Los Alamos (my personal favorite next to The Guide), and even 2 1/4 (which has grown on me in recent years). It's unfortunate a better book was not released for this retrospective. vb

Vincent Borrelli said...

If you get Los Alamos, look for the first printing. I heard the second printing is not very good (although I've not seen it). vb

Anonymous said...

Eggleston is one of those photographers who abdicates his responsibility for editing books to whomever he's working with. If that person happens to be great like Szarkowski, the book is great (Egg Guide). If that person is not so great, then, well, see Democratic Forest, and various others...

This book has Weski on board, normally an excellent editor, but fell between the cracks on repro. too many cooks probably. I hear they were reprinting it only the other week, with Winston on press this time.

The show was very disappointing. Really - after 35 years of waiting for a decent NYC retrospective, we get this poorly laid out muddle? It was a crying shame, a great disservice, and the Whitney should be castigated for not getting it right.

There should also be a portion of the blame at BE too, he lets this happen to his work after all. The Trust needs a kick in the pants for allowing it to get that bad, on the walls and in the book.

Anonymous said...

interesting. I liek Eggleston but the idea that he invented colour photography - nonsense. So maybe the dustjacket is actually appropriate.

Vincent Borrelli said...

Who said he invented it? Who did a substantial history-changing body of color work pre-1976 that was better or at least as interesting as BE's, and holds up as well today? Are you referring to the "Color Before Color" Hasted Hunt show in the summer of 2007 (Luigi Ghirri, Keld Helmer-Peterson, John Hinde, Peter Mitchell, Carlos Pérez Siquier, Ed van der Elsken)? ...I'm not interested in a blog pissing-contest, but am genuinely curious to know who you are referring to.

Vincent Borrelli said...

It's not BE's fault. He's always been upfront and straight about being incapable of editing his own work. It's not a character flaw and he is not throwing his hands up... he actually cannot edit his own work. It's not what he does, and has no interest in editing his work. That's his way of working, period. So, it's up to others (Trust, museum curators, etc.) to do this part. The Whitney's to fault, absolutely not BE at all.

Anonymous said...

I've been following the threads with a great deal of interest, mainly because I was involved with organising one of Bill's early exhibits in Austin, before the Guide was published. Like most people I'd wondered about the choice of dust jacket. Recently I bumped into him in a foodstore. I hadn't seen him for a few years, so we said hi and exchanged memories and then I asked him about the jacket. He smiled in that Buddha-like way of his and said "Gerald, does the sun have a dust jacket?" and at that moment I achieved enlightenment.

verninino said...

... no, the sun doesn't, actual photographs don't, but photobooks do.

Dust jacket aside, the photographs do not enlighten the page. Which is important for those of us who aren't acquainted with Bill and can't afford his actual photos.

Sorry to be such a blunt instrument but one ought to expect higher standards from the Whitney. Eggleston deserves better.

Quang-Tuan said...

Wasn't Szarkowski himself who said that Eggleston had "invented" color photography ? Shame on me for liking photographs of nature, but I think Elliot Porter did a great body of color work before 1976.

Double E said...

i thought color photography was "invented" by FSA photographers John Collier, Jack Delano, Russell Lee,
& Marion Post Wolcott 1940-1943

Vincent Borrelli said...

Christiaan Huygens had to deal with chromatic aberration of his telescope lenses, so he invented the Achromatic two element eyepiece... so, that guy had some ocular say in the matter.

verninino said...

Oooh, ooh!

I'd like to drop Paul Outerbridge into the ante.

Not only was he cooking yummy imagery in the 1950s, he was consistently conceiving amazingness in the 30s (here and here), too. Not that any of this diminishes Eggleston.

Stuart Alexander said...

Double E and others,

There were a few experimenters in the 19th-century but no sustained body of work. The first real wave of good color photography came when Albert Kahn sent a small army of photographers around the world with Autochrome plates beginning in 1908 and continuing to the crash in 1929 when he lost all his money. Fortunately, his 'Archives de la Planète' as he called them and his house and gardens were taken over by the local municipality of Boulogne-Billancourt just outside Paris where they can still be visited today. Open to the public as a local museum. Some of the work is really good. Check out this book, the first overview in English: The Dawn of the Color Photograph: Albert Kahn's Archives of the Planet by David Okuefuna, published in 2008.

Jeff Ladd said...

Jonathan Saunders of I Like To Tell Stories reminded me of a funny disconnect between the book and exhibition at the Whitney. The gun laying on the floor/sliding door picture was hung as a horizontal image in the show but I have always seen reproduced in books as a vertical.

sebastian said...

thumbs up for "by the ways" film (with that exceptionally surprising "sherlock holmes" quote) -

i got to say about the whitney catalogue it surprised me (by the amount of fotos of eggleston at work set against his own work) and i was happy to see each picture that i hadn´t before seen, regardless of cover, printing quality and lay-out.

still: "democratic forest" "mississippi" are incredible books!


Anonymous said...

When I saw the gun/ sliding door picture on the wall, I though of this quote from Eggleston that appeared in Aperture in 1989-

"I've always assumed that the abstract qualities of the photographs were very obvious. For instance, I can turn them upside down and they're still interesting to me as pictures. If you turn a picture that's not well organized upside down, it won't work."

Jeff Ladd said...

Thanks for does "work" both ways actually. I don't know about completely upside down but dropped onto its side it was OK.

I actually don't like that photo for other reasons. It has a contrived quality to it that much of his other work does not. It "looks" set up and stiff (even with the sliver of the toe of his shoe peeking in there).

Anonymous said...

I've also wondered whether that photo was set up and come to believe that it's pretty amazing either way. If he found it, wow, and if he set it up, wow. I would like to see footage of someone laying the gun there, taking the photo, including the shoe tip, and excluding the barrel tip.

I wonder if the "look" of being set up is part of your reservation about the photograph on the cover?

Jeff Ladd said...

Funny you mention that but I never actually thought of that dolls on the Caddy photo as set up. I figured it was a roadside is funny that way huh.

Federico said...

I am happy to see that there were other people besides me with MASSIVE reservations about the Whitney show. As for Eggleston books, I find the Guide of historical importance. The truly wonderful ones, however, are for me "Los Alamos" and "5x7".

"Democratic Camera", in contrast, doesn't seem likely to achieve beauty and/or posterity...

Anonymous said...

Further to Anonymous' comment about a photo working in any orientation, I can testify (after experimentation) some of Bill's work even looks better back to front. Yes, it's quite remarkable. Even the Caddy or tricycle shots. Just take any original print from Bill's portfolio and turn it to face the wall, and the genius of his composition still shows through the mahogany at the back of the picture frame. (for those few people who don't own any Eggy originals, you can get the same effect by putting a thick piece of card over a picture in one of his books. Genius still shines through - it's simply unstoppable! It even happens if you use thick industrial lead plating. Quite remarkable.

sebastian said...

Lead in your head? Or paper? Or bile?

I´m also surprised that nobody can warm to "democratic forest", which is among my ten all-time favorites, not only for it´s name, but for it's scope (the book is a "world from my front porch" from 20 years back), it´s calm and detached beauty, and that "at war with the obvious" qoute. "Los Alamos", which is a great series (which originally should have been published in several different books) doesn´t have any sequencing at all, and an ugly like hell cover-

Anonymous said...

Sebastian, I suspect "The Democratic Forest" is beloved by many, and that if it is one day rereleased as a box of six hundred photographs, or a website, it will be even more.

sebastian said...

sorry, don´t get it, anonymous? ((when his teacher for composition approached Morton Feldman and asked him: "do you never think of the man on the street?", F. looked down and who was crossing the street but Jackson Pollock.)(So instead of the 'anomymous' being a "cross-section of the american public"(Charles Foster Kane), maybe the 'anonymous' is a dripping artist of the future?))
don´t change a thing about the "forest".

Anonymous said...

But I care about the cover. I had many of the same thoughts.

I just can't get past the tacky glossiness and very poor cover image selection. Doesn't represent his career to me at all. And the book is almost dictionary thick which I personally don't like. The contents may be great but I'll also be just fine with his other books. Pass on this.

Anonymous said...

Around the time of the release of "The Democratic Forest", Eggleston said something along the lines of the piece being a box of six hundred photographs, but due to the limitations of technology (cf. "not being able to record our dreams"), a book was the next best option.

"The Democratic Forest" is one of the great photo books, for me. It sits so well beside "American Photographs" and "The Americans", that they could be a three-volume set. It also seems to be a prescient link between Plato's Republic and Flickr.

Anonymous said...

Sebastian, you must know Winnie the Poo? Have you read about his search for the Heffalump? By analogy, in photgraphy the sheer volume of text written about a photographer such as Eggleston can be conflated with the actual quality of his work, elevating the man to mythical status, in the process spawning further accolades and tomes of praise. A mass psychogenic effect works its ways, and before long, we've a photographic messiah in our midst, whose every photo shines with glory. And what is he saying, politically, philosophically or humanistically that will enrich our lives and help us to live? Hmmm.
It is an unfortunate fact that the publishing machine leaves out some brilliant, subversive, charged photographers whose work could rival Eggleston any day. Have you seen Mike Brodie's work for example?

dbrown said...

I was so looking forward to the Whitney show, like I'm sure most people were. Last time I saw an Eggleston show was the 2 1/4 show at the Getty, and that was a donkey's age ago. Then I saw the book cover and my stomach kind of churned -- uh oh. What a tawdry image, kitschy and dumb, and running as a vertical. The show had lots of nice pictures, but left me feeling empty and confused, less impressed with Bill than before. It was dead, is the thing. by contrast, I'd thought the Calder show up at the same time would be a shallow re-tread and lo! it was full of life and surprise and charm. Happy that the Eggleston show got me into the museum to see it.

Anonymous said...

I believe the gun/sliding door photograph was taken in a Holiday Inn in Oxford, Mississippi. Bill used to spend some time down there, visiting one of his girlfriends.

The dolls on the Cadillac were not posed. It was a roadside vendor, probably somewhere in South Memphis, near Graceland, where flea markets are held every weekend.

It's so interesting to read all of the comments regarding Bill's work and the books that attempt to capture his work. The cold, hard truth is that the reproductions in the early books cannot measure up to a few of the more recent books.

Compare the two editions of the Guide. They are wildly different, and for good reason -- today's technology enabled more "accurate" color reproduction. But there's really something to be said (and felt) about the first edition's overall feeling.

There are also glaring printing deficiencies in Faulkner's Mississippi and the Democratic Forest. And just take a closer look at 2 and 1/4 -- there are images with blurring and color casts.

What does all of this mean? In the end, Eggleston's genius and vision transcend all questions of production value.

I understand that expectations for the Whitney were high. It was, after all, a career retrospective. But I feel sorry for anyone who can't enjoy the catalog because they're too caught up in analyzing the surface, when what really matters is inside.