Metropolitan Dystopia: Color Photographs of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Louisiana, 1968-2005
This dissertation examines color photographs made in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee between 1968 and 2005 and their relation to evolving racial discourse. My discussion revolves around three photographers: William Eggleston, Birney Imes, and William K. Greiner, who make striking color photographs in the U.S. South. I discuss the critical reception of their work and place it within the context of political and cultural attitudes toward the region and issues of race expressed in the media in the 1970s-early 00's. The important role played by Museum of Modern Art [MoMA] curator John Szarkowski was central in shaping discussions about contemporary photography during this period, placing Eggleston as the herald of the color photography explosion. I explore changing attitudes toward artistic and documentary color photography among photographers, critics, and the general public leading into the 1970s, arguing that these attitudes influenced the reception of the often high-intensity color images of Eggleston, Imes, and Greiner, in the decades that followed.
I discuss the critical reception of William Eggleston's 1976 photography exhibition at MoMA. I examine how Imes's color photographs of juke joints and roadhouses in Mississippi utilize the expressive potentials of color film to depict these liminal, public/private spaces as sites of boundary crossing in a racially divided culture. I explore the ways in which William K. Greiner uses color to depict the pre-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans metropolitan area.
My contribution is to show how Eggleston, Imes, and Greiner employed the expressive, visceral potentials of color photography to interpret and navigate the uncertain moral terrain of the U.S South in the era following the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.
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