01 April 2007

we spoke of many things, fools and kings, and this he said to me, "the greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return"

William Eggleston

Around the same time I became interested in photography, the Silver Jews released Tanglewood Numbers (a great cd). The first thing that grabbed my attention about the cd was the photo on the front, which I later learned was by William Eggleston. I soon went to the library and checked out 2 1/4, the only collection of Eggleston's photos the RU library owns, and I wasn't disappointed. Each photo expanded my sense of what's possible--and in my opinion Los Alamos and Eggleston's Guide are stronger collections than 2 1/4.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Eggleston is known as the father of color photography. Along with Stephen Shore and a few others, he helped make color legitimate (and eventually very fashionable) in galleries and museums. Eggleston is also known for shooting the detritus of everyday life--the banal, mundane (though perhaps extraordinary) "stuff" that we normally overlook. His first show at the Museum of Modern Art included photos of the inside of a packed freezer, shoes underneath a bed, and a child's tricycle shot from ground level. This penchant for lavishing attention on things that normally go unnoticed has provided the main point of contention over Eggleston's work. In response to the MOMA show, New York Times art critic Hilton Kramer said, "Perfectly banal, perhaps. Perfectly boring, certainly." The MOMA show was in 76, and Eggleston's shows are still met by many with bafflement and incredulity. However, as novelist Eudora Welty pointed out in her Introduction to Eggleston's Democratic Forest, Eggleston photographs the mundane world, but “no subject is fuller of implications than the mundane world.”

A large part of what interests me about Eggleston is his resistance to being categorized. His photographs have the ability to make viewers pause, and this pause provides an opening for genuine engagement, a genuine aesthetic experience, to occur. Too often, even sophisticated artwork is pre-packaged to fit an existing theory or idea, and this often leads to closure rather than wonder or inspiration (or perhaps anxiety). On an online discussion post I was reading, one person said Eggleston's photos looked like they were taken by a three year old; this was undoubtedly intended as criticism, but it could also be read as praise. To my mind, restoring our sense of wonder--and unease--with the familiar world is a task of immeasurable value.

I'm shifting gears here, but I wanted to note that Eggleston's photos appear on the covers of albums by Big Star, Alex Chilton, and Primal Scream, and Eggleston plays piano on Big Stars' album Third/Sister Lovers (thus the line from the Nat King Cole song that opens this post). Also, in the late 60's, Eggleston, Artist/Photographer William Christenberry (tomorrow's post), and Big Star's lead singer Alex Chilton performed some Dada plays in Memphis, which fits nicely with Eggleston's penchant for de-familiarizing (and Chilton's. give Like Flies on Sherbert a listen). I mention this because it's all part of why I find Eggleston fascinating. He's an all around interesting guy.

In any case, Christenberry is up tomorrow, then I may post some of my own stuff again on Wednesday. I'm off to work on my life's work, a postmodern epic (oxymoron?) poem about cockfighting--and the disintegration of the self in a post "appalachian values" Appalachia. I'm envisioning the main character as a man fluttering between worlds and value systems--a kind of Hemingway code hero of the cockfighting ring slowly giving way to the eroding forces of the academy and the marketplace. Seriously, I haven't had dinner, and I'm getting loony; I tend to say silly, self-effacing things when I've been staring at a computer screen for too long. So, goodbye until tomorrow.

1 comment:

Karen said...

I had never really contemplated photography before, but I'm enjoying my foray into it. I am particularly enjoying seeing what catches other people's eyes, so thanks for posting photos by and information on your favorite photographers.

The last paragraph of this post has me convinced that you are, in reality, absolutely bizarre. I mean that in a good way though.