There is something about this image that conjures a cringe deep within my soul. I despise the content but surprisingly really enjoy that I loathe it in many ways. I appreciate navigating through the feelings, memories, and thoughts this photograph evokes, as many of William Eggleston’s images do. I’m very familiar with the image, as it’s enlarged on the dust jacket of my Eggleston book published by the Whitney Museum of American Art, purchased back when I saw a traveling exhibition of his work at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, IL. Currently, 10 photographs by Eggleston are on view in the Museum’s latest exhibition, Vantage Points: Contemporary Photography from the Whitney Museum of American Art.
I have so many questions: Why are the dolls on the hood of a Cadillac? Are they permanent fixtures or set atop the vehicle for a specific reason? Are they superglued to the hood? Are they in a parade? Who is the proud owner and what is their personality?
My aversion to strange dolls dates to my childhood. As a little girl, my bedroom was very flowery and full of porcelain dolls that I didn’t dare touch. I remember exchanging gazes with them at night, and their uncomfortable, slightly unwelcome presence. As these memories arise while I explore this photograph, so do many more.
My grandma drove a massive white—inside and out—Cadillac for many years. I remember rides in it as a kid, and the time she let me behind the wheel with my temporary license at 15 years old. I was terrified by not only the sheer size of the vehicle and her attachment to it while I was solely responsible for its safety in that moment, but also intimidated by the array of religious statues superglued to the dashboard. They watched ever so closely as I carefully navigated the roadways.
For me these are fond, humorous memories, but nowadays being stared down by a group of disheveled dolls is an opportunity that I would happily skip. Nevertheless, these are the things that come to my mind. His work leaves us nostalgic, arousing the desire to tell stories and to share memories. What memories come to mind for you?
I love that there are select photographs of Eggleston’s that are absolutely my favorites while there are others that I almost abhor, and that they intermingle in the most interesting ways. I am a huge fan of Eggleston’s work, yet I don’t want to (or need to) love every image. I believe his work is very personal to each individual, and a rollercoaster ride for many. For example, I’m greatly intrigued by the boy in the red sweater, while the dimly red lit bathroom is eerie to me (both photographs are on view in Vantage Points). The combination of the saturated colors of his work and the engaging content certainly conjure up many different feelings and reactions. I imagine the Artist snickering as he watches us ride the rollercoaster through his work, taking pride in the fact that images are so lovely and well-received, while others provoke cringes.
Vantage Points: Contemporary Photography from the Whitney Museum of American Art is on view now at the Asheville Art Museum through March 15, 2021.
—Steph Wisnet, communications manager