October 05, 1987 12:00 PM

edited by Sally Eauclaire

William Eggleston’s one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1976 is often cited as the moment when color photography as an art form shed its short pants. With their inquisitive concentration on the ordinary (a tricycle shot from ground level, the interior of a spanking clean oven), Eggleston’s enigmatic pictures of suburban Memphis and northern Mississippi triggered as much derision as praise. But Eggleston’s work has shown in the most personal way how color can be not just a cosmetic overlay but an intrinsic part of the form, rhythm and meaning of a picture. The best of many good things about critic Sally Eauclaire’s latest cull of the field is that it contains a dozen new pictures from Eggleston’s largely unpublished series, The Democratic Forest, now a staggering 12,000 images and counting. Eauclaire analyzes some of Eggleston’s visual strategies, particularly his expressive use of blurred objects, shadows and out-of-focus zones. Jim Dow’s studies of a truck-stop poolroom, a railroad-station lunch counter and other commercial refuges and David T. Hanson’s powerful rendering of a Montana strip mine show how color can be used as a tool of contemplation. These pictures beckon the eye to enter the three-dimensional illusion and roam around inside. In Larry Babis’ encounters with tacky Americana and in Stephen Scheer’s sojourn in Texas, on the other hand, looming foreground objects, odd angles or strong colors on the peripheries make the whole composition seem to rise from within and bristle. Jack D. Teemer Jr. uses the odd clutter of various Dayton and Pittsburgh backyards to achieve a similar effect. Joel Meyerowitz, probably the best-known photographer in the book, alone fails to make a case for color. His wide-angle arrays of Manhattan office workers on the street at lunch hour recall Garry Wino-grand’s pioneering street shooting of the ’60s. But there’s little in this early (1973-76) essay that Winogrand didn’t do more pointedly in good old black and white. On the whole American Independents is a good guide to the state of a burgeoning art. (Abbeville Press, $45)

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