The publication of William Eggleston’s Chromes by Steidl in 2011 marked the beginning of the examination of the entire prolific output of this extraordinary artist in a range of books including Los Alamos Revisited (2012) and the ten-volume The Democratic Forest (2015). The three volumes of The Outlands are drawn from the same source, the photographs Eggleston made on color transparency film from 1969 to 1974 that formed the basis for the Chromes volumes and for John Szarkowski’s seminal exhibition of Eggleston’s work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1976 with the accompanying book William Eggleston’s Guide. However, with the exception of a couple of alternate versions, none of the photographs in The Outlands has been published previously.
The result is revelatory. Starting at almost the exact point on the same street in suburban Memphis where Eggleston famously photographed the tricycle, the work follows a route through the back roads to old Mississippi where he was raised. What is disclosed is a sublime use of pure color hovering in semi-detachment from the forms he records. At the time, Eggleston was photographing a world that was already vanishing. Today, this final instalment of his color work offers a view of a great American artist discovering the range of his visual language and an unforgettable document of the Deep South in transition.
Eggleston does not make judgments. He neither praises nor condemns the bright American promise. But to say that he merely observes it is not right either. An element of deep feeling-a kind of permanent expression painted on his face-emerges unseen in his sidewalks and night tables and billboard stanchions. – Alexander Nemerov