During his time in New York, Eggleston would roam the city with cameras, but he rarely shot pictures. “Those streets were Garry Winogrand’s world,” he says. Since then, his style of working has loosened so that he never knows where he will end up each day. A few years ago, he returned to New York and photographed a crushed-car lot in Queens. Recently he completed a Fondation Cartier commission to photograph Paris. “Years ago there, working in black and white, heavily under the influence of Henri Cartier-Bresson, I just didn’t see any pictures,” he says. “Now, once I start working, it’s no different from anywhere else in the world. Sometimes I have to ask, ‘Are we in Paris?’ ”
The Whitney retrospective certainly demonstrates Eggleston’s mastery in depicting the place of a place. But it is equally possible to see the show as just the opposite: a career-long meditation on how the particular can reveal the abstract—the composition of light and its reflection.
It’s four o’clock, and Eggleston, sitting on the stoop outside his office, smokes another in a long line of cigarettes. The late sun striking the cars in the lot recalls his first real color photograph: a bag boy pushing a row of carts. “This is beginning to be my favorite kind of light,” he remarks, his words precise but elegantly drawn out. “It brings out a spectrum that appeals to me, warmer colors that I don’t always notice at other times. It’s like when a thunderstorm moves through and the light changes swiftly from cold to warm.”