William Eggleston

Review: Book (and exhibition)

William Eggleston, Paris, 2009

I like William Eggleston’s photographs. Big Time!

I purchased this book having seen London exhibition by William Eggleston in January 2010. The exhibition had more recent work than was in the book. It was great.

The book I purchased later and have just been looking through it again. I also took out a copy of the 1976 William Eggleston’s Guide. I was fascinating to read the essay by John Szarkowski after all these years. He mentioned Kodachromes; wonder how many remember what they were? The essay still makes for a good read.

In May this year, I visited the MCA (Sydney) exhibition South of No North which included a small suite of Eggleston’s photos. It was an interesting exercise to place the work with that of two others.  Given the subtle power of Eggleston’s colour, (and I really do like to see his work as often as possible), for me the works of the other two artists were not strong enough in comparison.

When looking at The Guide there is no doubt that Eggleston’s photos have changed. In the Guide the photographs tend to be very much of the people and places of the mid west. There is space within the frame, be it the landscape, the rest of the room or the gardens in which the subject is situated.

It is too easy to say that the photos are simply about the mid west. They are about a photographer being one of the pioneers of the medium in his use of colour as well as the style of the photographs, subject, placement and not so subtle messages within the formal structure of the photographs.

Given the era when these photos were taken and that his photos are capable of being enlarged, William most likely would have had to use a tripod and therefore the compositions were more carefully staged and/or he would have been very careful in his composition to catch them on film. (will be checking on the use of tripod)

In Paris, the images are far more close up and more often bordering on the abstract.  (I am not a fan of his paintings.) The Paris collection does have a sense of someone roaming and capturing intimate slices of Paris life. Wonderful stuff. We have many who practice in this genre. Some of them are great and others not so.

The Paris images were all taken in Paris (he was on a commission to do so), most of the images could be from any major city. Except of course for those with words in French. This universality adds to their engagement. And I do not mean that you were guessing where the different images were taken, it was more that such images could be taken in a city where most would have thought that all the photographs that would already been . He has roamed, obviously enjoyed himself, and his eye has been so selective about observing detail.

Looking closely at the images in the 2010  London Exhibition at Victoria Miro, I doubt they could be enlarged much more. This does not distract from their engagement. As an exhibition, collectively the photos were intriguing and it was a great pleasure to see them. The gallery has a selection online.  Again these photos were close up and slices of our environments.

There is nothing like the opportunity to stand in front of and to look into an original William Eggleston photo, to enjoy his intelligent snap shot, and to travel to another place.

I hope soon to write so much more on this photographer’s work. But for the moment I will just continue to enjoy them in the books I can get hold of and to look out for more exhibitions that I can get to.

A review of Paris in the Guardian

A review of the Victoria Miro exhibition in the Guardian


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