So Much Depends upon a Rusty Blue Trike in Baltimore

This morning, a friend posted a picture of William Eggleston's photograph, "Memphis (Tricycle)", asking "Is this photographic art worth $578,500?" The overwhelming response seems to be no. I took a very different view, which a co-worker summed up nicely, reflecting that the picture captured very nicely the 1970's suburban zeitgeist.

With that, I'm trying to capture some of my reactions. One thought is of William Carlos Williams famous poem, "Red Wheelbarrow" which starts off simply, "so much depends upon a…". It is a very simple poem that captures a compelling image. In Williams' case, it was a red wheelbarrow. In Eggleston's case, it was a rusty blue trike.

The tricycle is from Memphis, but it also made me think of a great song by David Glaser, "House in Baltimore".

our days fled like a passing summer storm
In that little house in Baltimore

The song, like the imagist poem and the image from the photograph beautifully captures the 1970's suburban zeitgeist.

Doing a little more research, I found an article about the auction where the photograph fetched over half a million dollars. Christie's auction of Eggleston prints nets $5.9 million.

Benefiting the trust, the rare public sale of Eggleston’s work marked the first time his photos have been sold in an oversize format. Combining some of the 72-year-old photographer’s most famed works, along with selection of lesser-known images, each was produced in 60-by-44 inch size and utilized a new color printing process allowing for high quality reproductions

There is a big difference between a rare 60-by-44 inch print and a 607x419 pixel image embedded in a Facebook page. And how much does knowing the place of the photograph in history change the perceived value? The Wikipedia article about William Eggleston provides important additional context to the place of Eggleston's work in the history of photographic art.

The discussion drifted to another dimension. Catherine asked, "Does it help you look at the way you live or see the world?" That is the interesting question to me, along with variants. I asked, "what aspects of the photograph bring it the most value?" Another person had a curious comment, "Art has nothing to deliver to recipients!". They went on to talk about the folly of asking "an 'Off-Art'-Public about the 'Worth' of Art".

I was uncomfortable with these comments. Is art only for an elite cognoscenti, and if art has nothing to deliver, does it have any purpose or value?

Yet returning to Catherine's question about helping people look at the way they live or see the world, I think Eggleston photograph, as well as Catherine's Facebook post, helps people with these issues. Perhaps this blog post, too, will cause someone to stop and think.

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