Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name



Fine Arts

Degree Program

Art (Creative) and Art History with a concentration in Art History, MA

Committee Chair

Kim, Jongwoo Jeremy

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Reitz, Chris

Committee Member

Reitz, Chris

Committee Member

Martineau, Paul

Author's Keywords

William Eggleston; election eve; photography; history of photography; sumter county, GA


This thesis analyzes the photographic book Election Eve (1976) produced by photographer William Eggleston. Eggleston’s photographs represent a complex network of connections between material objects and the potential truth of depiction. The often-nondescript locations that Eggleston photographed in Sumter County, GA in October 1976 appear specific at the outset, but quickly lose their adherence to the supposed realities that they depict. Since his first major exhibition in the mid 1970s, Eggleston’s photographs have presented difficulty because they from often-disparate material sources. Despite of the complexity of Eggleston’s engagement with both art and non-art photography, scholarship continues describe Eggleston’s “snapshot aesthetic” as a means of the visualization of things like identities or the banality of its subjects. Yet his practice, typified by Election Eve, is in fact aligned with an attempt to assert the material presence of the photographic object and the role it plays in the construction of reality. Often, this follows Roland Barthes’s concept of the “reality effect” in which photographs become reality’s surrogates because they appear to prove what reality says about itself. In the course of my investigation, I outline several socio-historical uses of the photograph such as the in archives discussed by Allan Sekula, the private family snapshot analyzed by Roland Barthes, and the middleclass photo albums and slideshows analyzed by Pierre Bourdieu. These likewise function in accordance with the reality effect. My purpose is to position Election Eve in relation to its formal sources in order to better understand how the photograph is expected to participate in the world. In relation to Election Eve, this is to elucidate the ways in which the book both represents and asserts its concomitant realities through its deployment and subversion of the photograph’s assumed functions. Additionally, I will locate Eggleston’s formal and aesthetic predilections in the context of several of his contemporaries who likewise engage in a radical deployment of color photography’s amateur baggage. These include William Christenberry, Eve Sonneman, and Stephen Shore. Christenberry’s Brownie snapshots of rural Hale County Alabama, Sonneman’s diptychs exploring time and space in relation to the photographic moment, and Shore’s road trip documents of the towns and cities along US highways will aid in an understanding of the photographic object’s use as a physical marker and delineator of truth. This discussion of photography’s materialism is further guided by several theoretical signposts. This includes Bruno Latour’s conception of the Thing, a site where concepts and concerns can gather together. The photograph is such a Thing: its material presence represents a gathering place for the often-contentious negotiations made between the world and its depictions and the consensual production of reality. In this sense, the materialism of Election Eve is a product of its ability to affect rather than reflect the world. Instead of a series of images that describe the identities of established places, Election Eve constitutes a set of objects whose material forms, such as the individual print or the leather-bound album, engage, subvert, and reassess the historical and social uses and definitions of the photograph and its relationship to reality. This is typified through the role the photograph plays as a landmark and the broader connections between mapped places and the material form of the map. In this way, photographs of roads and road signs, buildings and fields, come together as a web of points that mark off, map, and finally make their own reality. Taken together, the experience of shuffling through the pages, from one decrepit porch to another, from a sunlit but empty diner to a deserted parking lot and a red clay cemetery, provides a sense of anchored reality despite the relative anonymity of content. Apart from their function as seemingly transparent vehicles for history, identity, and the colors of reality, Eggleston’s book and its photographs are a network of signposts and landmarks that point to themselves as a place whose material presence is also the presence of reality.