The Eggleston conundrum

William Eggleston, giant of photography, trail blazer, award winner, etc etc. I enjoy his work because it shows things that I haven’t seen previously. They may be banal but I’ve never been to Tennessee and  his photos show various little snippets of the less photographic scenes. When he became famous no-one else was taking colour photos that ended up in galleries, and he deserves some praise for taking his own path. Here’s a short interview with him at a recent awards ceremony:

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Since early on in your career you’ve been invited and commissioned to photograph various events and places, do you approach these projects differently to the rest of your work? Or is all the same?
I would simply say it is most likely all the same, or that is my intent.
Having traveled quite extensively, do you research your locations before visiting or take the place as it comes when you arrive?
Definitely the latter.
How often might you work on any one project?
On any project, I set no time limits or any limits on the number images, whether it’s 10 or 10,000.

How often do you return to places you’ve visited before?
I never know because I don’t much plan ahead. So I could be back many times at certain places. It’s not a prerogative.
Tennessee seems to be a constant influence in your many portfolios over the years, can you elaborate on its appeal?
Since I mostly live there, it’s a familiar place, and part of the further deep South where I grew up.
Your work is often devoid of people but retains the presence of human existence. Would you consider yourself a documenter of life?
I put it this way: I’m often asked a similar question, and my usual reply is that I’m photographing life today. There are indeed many people in my photographs and since I do not consider myself a documentary photographer, there are those out there that think most of my work is not about people. They are wrong.

What was it about colour photography that you wanted to explore rather than black and White film?
Because the world is not in black and white, as anyone knows. The only time it is when it’s depicted in black and white photographs.
Have you moved into digital photography or do you still use your 35mm Leica?
I prefer still using film. I mostly do use Leica equipment. I’m very slowly approaching digital, but I’m quite happy using film.

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A man of few words, and even fewer insights. He uses colour because the world is not black and white. He takes photos of Tennessee because he lives there. I wonder if the interviewer really expected anything more from him? I’ve seen the same type of interviews live with Martin Parr, Steve McCurry, and Juergen Teller, and they’re much the same, a bit pedestrian, a bit ordinary, although McCurry and Teller seemed to believe all the hype about their work where Parr is brutally honesty. And so is Eggleston. He doesn’t seem to have any process, any aims, any obvious creativity that might be worth studying. Parr at least did a photographic degree, while Teller spent a few months on photo courses in Germany. So why bother with any of them? Seems to be because they’re commercially successful even if they can’t explain it. Is this how to get ahead in photography, just go and take a few snaps, and if you do pick up any photographic theory for God’s sake ditch it immediately.

On the other hand we have the learned curatorial view John Szarkowsi which I think actually says what I said above, but in academic terms- Introduction to Eggleston’s Guide

Teller told us about his “interview” with Eggleston where the great man sat and didn’t say anything for an hour, then invited himself on a tour of Europe at Teller’s expense. So they went on the road for a few weeks and didn’t take a single picture or even speak very much.

This really is not good enough. Eggleston’s done, and whatever he had to say was said in a few words forty years ago, and he hasn’t got anything else to say, so stop flying him in and giving him awards. There are real photographers out there much more deserving and in need of recognition. Awards committees are lazy self-promoters, where the latest fad is to have people who don’t take photos win photographic competitions. In the name of art.

Compare and contrast with someone like Sebastiao Salgado. Now there’s a photographer. Or William Klein (but not Moriyama, please, leave the perverts in their gutters with their children’s panties and up-skirt shots and don’t bring them to the Tate Modern for our admiration of their money making skills).

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About watlvry

Flaneur for my own ailments; government and corporate hypocrisy; guitar stuff; the music business; home made videos featuring home made tunes played at home; a bit of golf; and of course photography. Specifically "art" photography (doesn't exist) and contemporary photography ( sadly does exist in all its grotesque reality).
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