Though better known for producing writers than visual artists, the state of Mississippi indirectly enabled color photography's acceptance as an art form through native son William Eggleston's landmark 1976 solo show at New York's Museum of Modern Art — a show that set the tone for much subsequent color photography, as we see in these two adjacent exhibitions.
Troubled Waters is a selection of mostly low-key Eggleston works from the William Greiner collection. Many appear deadpan, but a closer look reveals paradoxical contrasts, a Eudora Welty short story that she never got around to writing. Views of roadside diners with Formica counters and chrome jukeboxes suggest ossified archaeological artifacts of suburban pop culture, while strands of old Christmas tree lights seem to strangle porch columns like electric jungle creepers. Eggleston's manic gonzo style makes a cameo appearance in a night scene with a luridly glowing Confederate flag neon sign engulfing a ragged palm tree in its crimson glow, an omen like a latter-day burning bush illuminating the byways of the oblivious.
Greiner, a New Orleans-born photographer, works in an Egglestonian mode infused with his own unique quirks. Jet Over Blue and Black House, Kenner LA conveys the vertiginous aura of America's airport towns, but the deco flourishes of Hope Mausoleum and its glowing geometric sign suggests Mussolini-era Italian expressionist cinema set in Mid-City. Birney Imes' iconic photos of juke joints like Purple Rain Lounge (pictured) convey something of the expansive savannas and Soweto-like shanties of the Mississippi Delta, while documentary images by William Christenberry and William Ferris capture the haunted soul of the Southern landscape. Finally, Alex Soth's through-the-window portrait of Eggleston at home with his vintage piano and audio gear reminds us that paradox is a human invention and Eggleston may be the most paradoxical contemporary photographer of all.