Context

tricycle1

Often, with art, context is everything. Context gives you a framework to interpret or make sense of otherwise ambiguous or confusing images. So, if you look at this photo by William Eggleston you might think it’s cool. Or not. But probably not terribly important. But then you learn a little about the context in which the photo was taken and displayed, and poof!, you see the image differently. For instance

Thirty years ago photography was art if it was black and white. Color pictures were tacky and cheap, the stuff of cigarette ads and snapshot albums. So in 1976, when William Eggleston had a solo show of full-color snapshotlike photographs at the august Museum of Modern Art, critics squawked.

It didn’t help that Mr. Eggleston’s pictures, shot in the Mississippi Delta, where he lived, were of nothings and nobodies: a child’s tricycle, a dinner table set for a meal, an unnamed woman perched on a suburban curb, an old man chatting up the photographer from his bed.

In that context, the image takes on new meaning. Kind of like what Voice Over might do to otherwise ambiguous images.

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