New William Eggleston books journey from Memphis to Mississippi

Spread across three hefty volumes, The Outlands traces the route from William Eggleston’s birthplace of Memphis back to old Mississippi, where he was raised.

The Outlands embodies everything Eggleston has brought to contemporary photography, including an attention to detail and bold experiments in colour. It also asks the reader to have patience, since the sequencing in The Outlands means that images are often grouped together to emphasise their commonalities.

Pale ochre building façades are shown four different ways; a stream of low-angle shots of signage levitate against the sky; Coca-Cola logos are repetitious and pervasive as is rusting signage, peeling paint and decaying wooden buildings. The title of the series is drawn from the name of a house in suburbia, proudly presented on an ornate sign staked in the lawn towards the beginning of the first volume.

All photographs © Eggleston Artistic Trust

Eggleston’s images, along with those of his peers Joel Meyerowitz and Stephen Shore, famously pushed forward the recognition of colour photography as a viable artistic medium, while also shaping how so many perceive the vast spaces of the USA for years to come.

“Suburban lawns, parked cars, Mississippi shacks and quiet street corners appear imbued with an Eggleston air as emphatically as a common American view could once be labelled as Hopperesque,” writes Mark Holborn in the introduction, who edited the books together with Eggleston’s sons, William and Winston. “What was regarded as a seemingly alien aesthetic has now become central to an American visual identity.”

The photographs in The Outlands were taken between 1969 and 1974 on colour transparency film. Eggleston’s work from this period appeared in a 1976 landmark survey of his work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and in an accompanying book William Eggleston’s Guide, yet The Outlands mostly features work that has never before been shown publicly and which the photographer himself hadn’t set eyes on for over 40 years, according to his son, William. It wraps up Steidl’s publication of Eggleston’s colour photography, which began with the release of Chromes ten years ago.

William Eggleston: The Outlands is published by Steidl;