The tricycle may be a little worse for wear, but it is pictured here as the most important thing in the world.
To make the photograph, Eggleston adopted a viewpoint even lower than the eye-level of the tricycle’s owner, so as to give us a clear view between its wheels to the grown-up sedan parked in the carport across the street.
Eggleston’s photographs began as Kodachrome slides, a popular medium of amateur photography, and they resemble snapshots in the way they forthrightly describe ordinary people and objects, framed squarely in the center of the picture.
Critics who found this resemblance grounds for dismissing the work overlooked the paradoxical power of snapshots.
To the insider, snapshots are keys that open reservoirs of memory and feeling; to the outsider, who does not recognize the faces or know the stories, they are forever opaque.
But because we all have snapshots of our own, we know the habit of understanding them and of projecting ourselves into the dramas and passions they conceal.
Color became available to the ordinary photographer in the 1950s and 1960s, but before then photography had been a black-and-white medium for more than a century.
Not only did color photographers have to master a new medium, they also had to forget the distinguished precedents that had drawn them to photography in the first place.
The conviction that serious photographs are made in black and white has not entirely disappeared, even today.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999