Irreducible Surrogates & The Beyond


On the cover of the latest issue of the New York Times Book Review. The photo editor on the image:

Eggleston is considered one of the pioneers of contemporary color photography. His 1976 show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, of work done in Memphis and northern Mississippi, where he lived at the time, was MoMA’s first ever solo exhibition of color photographs. In the show’s catalog, the MoMA curator John Szarkowski called Eggleston’s photos “irreducible surrogates for the experience they pretend to record, visual analogs for the quality of one life, collectively a paradigm of a private view, a view one would have thought ineffable, described here with clarity, fullness, and elegance.”

As the Book Review’s photography editor, I work with my colleagues to find images that can stand on their own as evocative of lives and places but that also connect to what both the reviewer and the author are trying to convey. “Wells Tower makes me think that nothing bizarre someone might dream up could ever be as strange as American life as we live it,” White writes in his review. “The ‘beyond’ that the Surrealists talked about so much, the au-delà, is America itself.” For both me and the Book Review’s art director, Nicholas Blechman, Eggleston’s image perfectly captured the feeling of this passage. It has that quality of isolating the commonplace and rendering it in such a way as to evoke the nuance of our uniquely American sense of the possible, simultaneously with our memories of a past that can never be recovered.