Glover describes William Eggleston as the godfather of colour photography. He explains that:
He has had many detractors, and many of those critics spoke up when his work was shown at MoMa, New York, in 1976, in a retrospective that helped to define the nature of photography in our time. Forty years ago, his photographs were dismissed as banal, inconsequential and ramshackle in the extreme. The New York Times called it “the most hated show of the year”
Kim explains that when he first saw Eggleston’s work ‘he just didn’t get it’. Eggleston is renowned as being somewhat cantankerous and not found of giving interviews or talking about his work, which can be see in Glover’s Q&A session.
In this post, I consider the Eggleston’s colour work and reflect upon what I might learn from him. I base this mainly on looking at Eggleston’s work in his book, William Eggleston’s Guide, but also from review of the other source referenced, including Almereyda’s insightful documentary.
- The subject matter of the photographs is completely unremarkable, utterly banal: a dog drinking from a puddle, a jigsaw puzzle on a table, an empty road and trees silhouetted against the sky and so on. I can see how this makes the images difficult to understand at first – they are not what we expect in a photograph.
- Once one gets beyond the subject matter and starts looking at the form and placement of the shapes in frame, the work makes sense. For example, Tallahatchie County, Mississippi (p52) is block of ground with vibrant textured sand, with a plain box building resting on the horizon, and a block of grey/white clouds above. The form of the shapes and their colours makes a compelling composition. But if one focuses only on the subject matter, this is difficult to see.
- The photos seem to be carefully composed, with attention to the placement of the objects and lines within the frame. While the frames contain only a few objects, they appear full with activity because of this careful placement.
- Perhaps most important to the images are the vibrant colour tones – the colours are an essential component to the photos, rather than a distraction that interferes with the form of the objects. I learned in the documentary that Eggleston uses dye-transfer to make his prints, which was originally used for magazine and advertising copy, to give a wider colour spectrum than normal photographic prints.
I struggled with Eggleston’s work at first, but with perseverance and a different perspective on the purpose of a photograph, I enjoy it very much.
Almereyda M (2005). William Eggleston Documentary: In The Real World. Available from: YouTube:https://youtu.be/Lq3N2KWAttU [Accessed 15.8.15]
Eggleston W (2002). William Eggleston’s Guide. New York, The Museum of Modern Art.
The Guardian Art and Design [online] . William Eggleston Americana. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2013/apr/05/william-eggleston-photography-americana [accessed 16.8.15]
Glover M (2013). Independent [online]. Genius in colour: Why William Eggleston is the world’s greatest photographer. Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/genius-in-colour-why-william-eggleston-is-the-worlds-greatest-photographer-8577202.html [accessed 15.8.15]
Kim E (2013). Eric Kim Photography [blog]. Lessons William Eggleston has taught me about photography. Available from: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2013/04/01/10-lessons-william-eggleston-has-taught-me-about-street-photography/