Victor Dima - William Eggleston

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Inspiration / William Eggleston

on 2013/07/14

Following in the footsteps of Robert Frank, William Eggleston is one of those names that screams “America”. He is one of the fathers of color photography and has been a major influence in both photography and film since his “discovery” by the great Szarkowski. Eggleston, in his own words, has been at war with the obvious his entire career. I have always been interested in the photography of the “mundane” (as it reveals life to be anything but) so I had looked at his work in the past. Recently however I have had the chance to get to know him better as a photographer by watching William Eggleston in the Real World, a documentary I strongly recommend. Eggleston’s work has an immense power of description, and this documentary captures very well both his personality and his artistic approach:

‘I am at war with the obvious.’ This is one of Eggleston’s rare public statements of intent, to be inscribed on a banner flying in defiance of the fact that he tends to photograph only the most obvious stuff on the planet: the unspectacular, random, ephemeral stuff that’s out there on the edges of country roads and suburban driveways, on a bureau or a bed. Signs and toys and trash are given iconic stature, mysteries hiding in plain sight. Everything shown to be simultaneously familiar and strange, recognizable and unknowable.'

-From William Eggleston in the Real World

It’s hard not to think about various layers of reality seeing Eggleston searching, composing, looking through the viewfinder. One might think he’s peeling at the mundane to expose the hidden treasures of life, but Eggleston is much more zen than that. He looks and photographs, and by doing so reveals that there are no hidden treasures underneath the surface. Photographing the mundane does nothing more than expose it, as it is, in all its glory and unhidden beauty. He looks for signs, for landscapes of banality, for the places and things that are such strong signifiers of the human condition that we take them for granted, and asks us to look at them with honesty, without judgement and without commentary. His photographs of gas stations and signage are particularly interesting to me: we use these landmarks as helpers when we navigate, and Eggleston seems to tell us to stop and look before we make that left turn past the big red sign.

I leave you with two more quotes, both from the documentary: one by Michael Almereyda and one by Eggleston himself. They need no explanation. None of Eggleston’s work needs an explanation, and that is precisely the point: photography speaks for itself.

'Of course some photographs, like bricks, stack up differently than others. One measure of Eggleton’s gift is that it’s fairly impossible to spend time with his pictures without experiencing a kind of contagious recharged awareness of the richness of the visible world. Extended exposure to his photos is likely to recondition the way you see and the way you think about seeing. Everything is worth looking at, the pictures say, worth photographing.'

-From William Eggleston in the Real World

This last quote sums up the entirety of his body of work, and reveals (to me at least) the zen of William Eggleston:

'The trouble is – whatever it is about pictures, photographs, it’s just about impossible to follow up with words. They don’t have anything to do with each other. [...] What is there to talk about?'

- William Eggleston

Text courtesy of Victor Dima