Known for being one of the first serious photographers to work in color, William Eggleston is much more than that, as this well-curated retrospective exhibition admirably demonstrates. Shooting mainly in his native country, the American South, Eggleston was a leader in the post-World War II wave of street and social photography that relished in the popular environment and documented its beauties and quirks without sentimentality–but, in his case, with affection. Devoted to perfecting “a democratic way of looking around,” which had already been pursued by Robert Frank and Garry Winogrand, Eggleston reached his peak in the 1980s with his series of street scenes and interiors, “The Democratic Forest,” which introduces us to a kitschy shrine to Elvis Presley in Graceland, a mouth-watering chicken dinner set out on a picnic table (we see its remains in another shot), an auto-parts store bristling with signage and a little boy in white overalls appreciatively studying a gun catalogue, among many other vignettes and slices of life. In contrast to his northern counterparts, Eggleston lightened his gentle irony with love. (Michael Weinstein)
Through May 23 at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan.