insights into photography
William Eggleston could be considered one of those annoying photographers who have great acclaim but seem to photograph just what is in front of him and it is then considered ‘art’. There is no doubt, that on one level the simplicity of his images and the feeling that they are only a stones throw away from being snap shots is frustrating. Frustrating because it is so difficult to pin down what makes them so absorbing. As with many artists when you show their work to people they either get it or they don’t, and this is telling; somehow those that do are more likely to become your friends. There is an outside nature to his images, domestic as many of them are you are still drawn to the edge by them. Should you be interested in Eggleston, well yes if you are interested in photography. Those photographers who provide decoration, amazing images but essentially decoration give you answers immediately but Eggleston mostly gives you questions and that is intriguing. “His first exhibit was a one-man show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. This was the first photography exhibit to show solely color work. Up until that point, black-and-white was considered the only true photographic art form. The curator of the museum, John Szarkowski took a big chance. He loved the work. He called it perfect. Most didn’t consider it perfect though. The show was strongly criticized. Hilton Kramer, of The New York Times, wrote, “Perfect? Perfectly banal, maybe…perfectly boring, certainly.” Even Ansel Adams wrote to Szarkowski asking him what those photos were doing hanging on the walls of the MoMA.” (from Faded + Blurred) I think the point about Ansel Adams just reinforces my views on Eggleston.
As Nicole Rae says on the blog Faded + Blurred “Despite his often mundane subject matter, he is simply not your ordinary photographer. His first one-man exhibit at the MoMA in 1976 was both heralded as being genius and was criticized as being the most hated show of the year. Some see his work as being perfect – the angles, composition, color, everything pushing the edges. While others see a jumbled mess of boring things, just thrown together, like he just shot from his hip with no thought behind it whatsoever. Love him or hate him, William Eggleston changed photographic history and changed the way we look at the world.”
A potted history of his life and achievements starts in 1939, born in Memphis, Tennessee
1957 Acquires his first camera, a Canon rangefinder.
1958 Acquires his first Leica.
1959 Sees Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “The Decisive Moment” and Walker Evans’ “American Photographs”.
1965 Begins to experiment with color transparency film.
1967 Starts to use color negative film. Goes to New York and meets Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander and Diane Arbus. Presents his work to John Szarkowski at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
1974 Harry Lunn publishes the first portfolio of dye-transfer photographs, “14 Pictures.” Receives a Guggenheim Fellowship. Appointed Lecturer in Visual and Environmental Studies at The Carpenter Center, Harvard University. Completes his “Los Alamos” project.
1976 The Museum of Modern Art exhibits work in first solo exhibition of color photographs accompanied by a monograph, “William Eggleston’s Guide.” Commissioned by Rolling Stone to photograph Plains, Georgia before the election of President Jimmy Carter. Project becomes “Election Eve,” the first of the artist’s books of original photographs published by Caldecot Chubb.
1978 Appointed Researcher in Color Video at Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the invitation of Richard Leacock. Photographs the Gulf states on a commission from A.T. & T. Receives another award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Visits Jamaica.
1979 Chubb published three smaller volumes of original photographs, “Morals of Vision,” “Wedgwood Blue,” and “Flowers.”
1980 Travels to Kenya with Caldecot Chubb and creates a body of work known as “The Streets Are Clean on Jupiter.” Commissioned to produce the “Louisiana Project” and to photograph throughout the state.
1983 Begins to photograph in Berlin, Salzburg and Graz and titles the series “Kiss me Kracow”. Commissioned to photograph the mansion of Elvis Presley, Graceland.
1986 Invited by director David Byrne to visit and photograph the making of his film “True Stories”. Commissioned by the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art to photograph in Egypt.
1988 Begins a series of color photographs of England he calls “English Rose”.
1989 Photographs in the orange groves of the Transvaal. Accepts one of 54 Master Photographers of 1960-1979 awards from Photographic Society of Japan. Plays the role of musician Jerry Lee Lewis’ father in the movie “Great Balls of Fire”.
1996 Commissioned by Coca-Cola to photograph their plants in four cities in the U.S. Invited by producer Caldecot Chubb to visit and photograph the making of the film “Eve’s Bayou”. Receives the University of Memphis Distinguished Achievement Award.
2000 Commissioned by Paramount Pictures to photograph studio lot in Hollywood, California. Commissioned by the Cartier Foundation to photograph the American desert.
2002 Travels extensively and photographs locations including Pasadena, California; the New Jersey Shore; Queens, New York; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Tuscany, Italy.
2003 Travels to and photographs the Niagara Falls area. Travels to Arles, France to attend Rencontres d’Arles and meets Henri Cartier-Bresson. Accepts Gold Medal for Photography from National Arts Club, New York.
2004 Receives the Getty Images Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Center of Photography (ICP) Infinity Awards. Travels to Hawaii and photographs with new panoramic format camera. Travels to Madrid to accept 2004 Photoespana Award. Travels to Clovis, New Mexico and photographs the city and Norman Petty Recording Studios.
2005 William Eggleston In The Real World, a documentary film on Eggleston by Michael Almereyda is completed. Travels to Xilitla, Mexico to photograph Las Pozas. Longtime advisor and friend, Walter Hopps dies. Invited and travels to Tokyo to be guest judge at Canon’s New Cosmos Photography Contest.
In between these many awards and citations he was commissioned to travel and photograph for corporations, national art bodies and film directors.
Eggleston said, “A photographer friend of mine bought a book of Magnum work with some Cartier-Bresson pictures that were real art, period. You didn’t think a camera made the picture. Sure didn’t think of somebody taking the picture at a certain speed with a certain speed film. I couldn’t imagine anybody doing anything more than making a perfect Cartier-Bresson. Which I could do, finally.”
More from Faded + Blurred by Nicole Rae “Although he started his career working in black and white, he soon changed to color. The biggest problem he found was getting the colors the way that he wanted them. He tried having them developed commercially, which didn’t give him the results he wanted. He then went to Kodak slide film, which still didn’t work. In the early 1970s, he came across a process called dye-transfer. Also used by the artist Robert Rauschenberg, dye-transfer is a long and complicated process involving separating the individual colors from the master negative. It was a technique used mainly for advertising but, when Eggleston saw it, he knew it was perfect for his prints. He often said he could never get his colors as rich or as saturate as he wanted until he started using this process.”
“Sometimes I like the idea of making a picture that does not look like a human picture. Humans make pictures which tend to be about five feet above the ground looking out horizontally. I like very fast flying insects moving all over and I wonder what their view is from moment to moment. I have made a few pictures which show that physical viewpoint. . . . The tricycle is similar. It is an insect’s view or it could be a child’s view.”WE
Nicole Rae again…”Color became the main subject in his photographs. The objects are secondary to how the color looks and fits within the composition. He has been highly influenced by artists Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, which you can see in his images. There are blocks of color, there are shapes, there are angles and lines. He is not concerned about his photographs having meaning behind them. He says, “A picture is what it is… It wouldn’t make any sense to explain them. Kind of diminishes them.”
The William Eggleston Trust has a wide range of information on their site including details of all of his books, monographs and portfolios, also there is a list of articles and essays with links through to the original pieces where they exist on line.
From the Getty Museum site...“This plain, unassuming suburban house dominated by its television antenna could be titled Anywhere, USA. The image demonstrates William Eggleston’s interest in tract housing and particularly in new Southern suburbs. This theme runs through the over two thousand photographs of his seven-year “Los Alamos” project, for which he had actually photographed all over the United States. “
Nicole Rae says “Eggleston is able to simply capture moments, without being overly concerned with the why behind it. He takes one photograph and moves on. If he doesn’t get it the first time, he doesn’t go back to try to recapture it. The moment is over and he has moved on. His subjects are things most of us would consider to be boring, but he takes the everyday, often mundane objects in our lives and makes them beautiful. He turns them into works of art. If you look at each of his images and take the subjects themselves out and just see the color, shapes, and lines; seeing how it all fits together. That is art.”
There is an excellent TV documentary as part of the Imagine series and it can be found on line here
Many of his books are still available on Amazon and are beautiful and engaging, I recently purchased William Eggleston Guide from his first MOMA exhibition for £15 They might not be first editions but they are true to the originals and looking at images on paper is always better than on a screen, somehow it demands more of your attention. I also bought” Two And One Quarter” but I see it has now nearly doubled in price so get them while they are still cheap.
I had planned to write a long piece on Eggleston myself but having found the excellent Nicole Rae I found she had said all I wanted to say, so do go and visit Faded + Blurred, I will leave the last sage words to her
“When you look at Eggleston’s work, you get out of it what you get out of it. There is no correct interpretation of it, no right or wrong. It either affects you or it doesn’t. There is no reason behind it and maybe we need to stop looking for a reason. Maybe that’s what art is – just something that affects us on an emotional level. We don’t always need an explanation for it. Sometimes we can just look at an image and appreciate it for what it is without looking for something deeper.”
Eggleston has published his work extensively. He continues to live and work in Memphis, and travels considerably for photographic projects.
Here is another page full of pictures and editorial you may find useful Artsy
Reblogged this on Oxford School of Photography and commented:
Thought it was time to show this again as tonight I am teaching about colour on our Composition course
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