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5x7 is a collection of photographs by William Eggleston from the early 1970s, before his career changing MOMA exhibition in 1976, taken on a large format camera, and they are published in a large-format book. Most are in color, but some are in black and white. They show his friends and acquaintances from the places in Memphis, Tennessee and other places he liked to spend time. They haven't been published previously
These are magnificent images. Eggleston captures people exemplifying their era, posing for him, yet relaxed and beautiful. Their clothes, jewelry and hairstyles are all very evocative of a different time: a hippie guy in his twenties with untidy long hair and full mustaches in open neck shirts, a biker who looks a bit like Elvis with huge sideburns and dark glasses, a sharp looking young black man with fancy shoes, slim fitting clothes, a necklace and bracelets, and an older man, clean cut with grey hair, a light brown jacket, paisley shirt and a sort of cloth bolo tie. The women are a little younger and are often pretty. Their dresses and shirts have flower patterns. Some look straight-laced, while others seem more like partiers. They all have great faces, full of character, and they seem like people you would at least want to talk to, even if you didn't want to get to know them.
The composition is simple: mostly the backgrounds are dark and we see people close up, with their face down to their mid-torso. The colors in the color pictures are strong, pure and carefully matched. In the black and white pictures, of which there are fewer, the viewer is drawn more to the eyes of the subject, and of course the pictures lack the same warmth as the color ones, but they are often a little more striking.
Some of the photos are of places: they show buildings or rooms, and the final picture shows a telegraph pole in the evening, with the sky blue at the top and golden at the bottom. Again, Eggleston is very careful with his coordination of colors; a wonderful example is a café with wooden walls, a fake-wood Formica table, with salt, pepper, ashtray and napkin on top, with four brightly colored chairs around it, two green and two yellow, and a green edged board above the table with a large blue-finned swordfish above it. It's slightly quizzical in its tone, but is isn't poking fun at the café; Eggleston is just enjoying what he sees.
These pictures have a simple exuberance that makes it clear why Eggleston stood out so much at this time, and why he would have been chosen for an exhibit at MOMA. There's a very unpretentious interview with Eggleston at the end of the book that sheds some light on these photos, although not on why they have been hidden up to now. 5x7 is a real pleasure.
Link: Twin Palms Publishers.
© 2008 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.
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