Recommended reading: Sally Eauclaire
About ten years ago, I came across a book at Powell’s in Portland, Oregon, and know I was going to buy it based on the cover. It was called American Independents: Eighteen Color Photographers and there was a photograph by Larry Babis (whom I didn’t know of then, and am still not very familiar) on the cover. The book was written by Sally Eauclaire, another name I didn’t recognize.
American Independents contains eight or ten pictures (along with an Eauclaire essay) by well-known photographers like Eggleston, Epstein, Meyerowitz, Shore, and Sternfeld, along with equally valuable work from artists whose names have unfortunately not entered the canon in quite the same way: the aforementioned Mr. Babis, David. T Hanson, John Harding, Nancy Lloyd, Kenneth McGowan, Joanne Mulberg, Stephen Scheer, Jack D. Teemer, Jr., and Daniel S. Williams.
Two names – Len Jenshel and Roger Mertin – have become minor obsessions for me. I hope to write on each of them separately, but the point is that this book quite expanded the narrative of color work in fine art photography for me (notably making it at least not entirely male-dominated). So naturally, I had to see what else Sally Eauclaire had written.
Turns out that American Independents, published in 1987, was her third and final book on color photography, following 1981’s the new color photography and new color/new work, from 1984. I went to work reading them in reverse order.
new color/new work uses a strategy similar to American Independents, with sections on a number of the same photographers, but also including the likes of Adam Bartos, William Christenberry, and Jo Ann Walters. One of the real pleasures of both books is that Eauclaire chooses images from a single project, rather than a “greatest hits” of images, so you get Eggleston’s “Graceland,” or Shore’s “The Hudson Valley,” the latter which didn’t otherwise appear for many years in its entirety in book form.
To its credit, and obviously because it’s actually the first book in the series, the new color photography adopts a thematic rather than an artist-by-artist approach, beginning with “The Problematic Precedents” in color photography. Eauclaire’s categorizations (chapters like “The Vivid Vernacular,” “Self-Reflections,” “Documentations,” “Enchantments,” and “Fabricated Fictions”) are sturdy enough, even if some of the photographers stubbornly resist such labels, or seep happily between categories. A benefit of the structure is that Eauclaire can bring some outliers like David Hockney and Lucas Samaras into the mix.
All three books can be found for sale online, and I see them pop up at the Strand in New York City with some regularity. Anyone interested in looking at or making color pictures should take a look.
(After some Googling, I found that Harvey Benge posted on the new color photography at more length. Check that out here.)