I posted a photo of an old chair last week and titled it “Channeling William Eggleston.” I failed to realize that many might not know or understand who he was and what his contributions to modern photography might have been. Back when I talked to classes about him I always showed a slide of a quote by Walker Evans,”Color Photography is vulgar photography.” Eggleston is generally regarded as the photographer who brought color photography to recognition as a valid genre of photography. His exhibition at the MOMA in 1976 was initially viewed as a critical disaster. I just ran across as terrific short film re: William Eggleston on the site ASX. It is definitely worth watching. In the film made by Renier Holzemer, Eggleston says that the criticism did not bother him at all. It made him realize that the critics were not doing their jobs. He says, “This was the Museum of Modern Art,” and he puts emphasis on the word Modern. He goes on, “They just did not understand what they were seeing. Later many apologized for what they wrote.” This film is about 25 minutes and is worth every one of them. It appears longer initially because the video repeats after the English version in a German language version, so don’t be frightened by the seemingly long appearance of the playback bar.
Actuality is a term that Walker Evans used to describe his photographs. He meant that the images were what he saw, they were symbols of the actual things, people, or places. William Eggleston describes his images as “Life today.” He emphasizes the word today. Eggleston and Evans are saying much the same thing. They are photographing what they find. If anything, history suggests that of the two Evans was more likely to re-arrange a scene for a better photograph. See the chapter in Earl Morris’ book: Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography.
Being of the South, I often see the humor, the irony, and the affection for his place that reflect in Eggleston’s photos. I am not sure that these things are intended, but they do attract his eye. Then his background as an artist sort of kicks in and he becomes enmeshed in color and form. Whatever the actual process, all of us are fortunate that he works his magic and makes such beautiful, intriguing images.