Tag Archives: William Eggleston

Project 1 – reflection point

For this piece of work, we are asked to consider the sentence below, with reference to the work of William Eggleston and Richard Wentworth:

The real location, found objects and characters, combined with technology and the photographer’s eye, come together to create a new world, one balanced loosely between recognition and art.

We are asked to answer the following questions:

  • Where does that leave the photographer? As story teller or history writer?
  • Do you tend towards fact or fiction?
  • How could you blend your approach?
  • Where is your departure from wanting/needing to depict reality?

The coursework suggests that, by removing the figure from an image, the viewer is encouraged/forced to make up his/her own story to explain what they are looking at. Hints and clues may be there, but it is the viewer who decides what they mean, not the photographer. The information also looks at William Eggleston’s series Memphis and explains that the lack of figures does not necessarily mean there is no information on the people who inhabit the spaces he photographs. Eggleston uses objects to hint at the people who use them, such as the tricycle shown in the coursework text.

Wentworth’s images of pieces of rubbish wedged into cracks in walls and domestic objects shown in a street context also hint at stories which the viewer must interpret. However, the question I would ask with both photographers is how much input they had into the scene they photograph. Clearly, some of Wentworth’s images are posed, although not all – see below. They utilise very mundane objects and make slightly jokey points about the incongruity of some of the things we see while going about our daily lives.

I am not so sure with Eggleston, although there is a very constructed feel about them. See below.

Both photographers appear to be using observation to collect together a series of images that say something about the place they are photographing and the characters of the people who live there. However, the individual stories are left up to us.

So, returning to the questions we are asked to consider, I would argue that these photographers are a little bit of both story teller and historian, but that these labels don’t really get to the heart of the subject matter. What the images really are is an invitation to think about how the objects got there, who did they belong to, and why, thus making us think outside the frame of the individual image to the place in which it was made. The story teller is really the viewer, not the photographer.

The second question asks whether I by nature tend towards fact or fiction in my photography. I would say probably 70% fact and 30% fiction, thinking about the work I have be making for my various courses. A conceptual element is creeping in nowadays, which probably means a move away from the simply factual. Others might disagree with this assessment though. I do feel that my work is moving away from simple reportage towards trying to visualise ideas, and this is something I intend to continue as the course goes on.

Conversely though, I have a strong aversion to making changes to the environment in which an image was made, in order to “improve” the composition. I prefer to leave things as I found them, and to work with what I see. An example of this is shown below, where nothing was added or taken away (apart from the photographer in the images, of course). The armchair and the panda bear really were exactly as we found them, in the derelict room.

P1640461v2

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William Eggleston and the snapshot aesthetic

A couple of days ago, I attended an OCA study visit at the National portrait Gallery, to see William Eggleston’s Portraits, along with about a dozen other students. It was timely, in view of my current Assignment 2 researches on Walker Evans, another photographer working at the same time in a similar style. A separate post on Evans is still in gestation, but will be published very soon.

Eggleston is a self-taught photographer, who began work around 1960. There is a fair representation of his early work, but for me the interesting images were the later colour ones. The exhibit includes 100 images, ranging from  photobooth size right up to A1+. The exhibition area was perhaps a little cramped and photography was no allowed, so I have no images of the space.

Eggleston was one of the first photographers to bring colour images into the mainstream of art photography. John Szarkowski’s promotion of his work at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York in the 1970s brought it to general attention, although much of the initial reception of his work was negative, with reviewers labelling it as banal and ordinary. However, they had failed to understand Eggleston’s concept of photographing the everyday in a democratic way, and not giving more importance to any particular element of what he saw. He says there are no pretensions towards photo-journalism; he just photographs what he sees, but has a knack of capturing composition, subject and colour that makes the ordinary interesting. Like Evans, he aims to photograph “the gaps in between everything else”.

Eggleston’s portraits are not his most famous works. Many of the images on show were taken unawares, and he is described as having a delicate, gently touch which captures something we can all relate to. I was particularly struck by the depth and tonality of the colours in the images, and his use of colour accents, particularly red and blue. Eggleston was influenced by abstract expressionism and this shows in his work. The colours themselves are very rooted in the fashions of the time of the images, and again, like Evans, one can date the images by the colour palettes he used.

I found the YouTube video below fascinating in the way it shows how Eggleston works. His images are rooted in the “Snapshot Aesthetic” (see below) and it is very clear that he embraces this idea totally. He is shown pottering round a nondescript area of his home town, literally taking single, fast snaps of whatever catches his eye. There is no sense of preparation about his method – he just responds to what he sees. “He discovers his subject within the myriad of possibilities.” As a result, the focus is often variable, and frequently emphasises odd parts of the image, but that is part of the charm of the work. At the same time, many of his works have an odd sense of foreboding and unreality, and there is often a fleeting impression of a narrative which the viewer cannot quite grasp.

Images that particularly struck me were the girl in the back of the car, for its strange composition, which forces the eye in towards the centre of the image, and the old lady on the swing seat, largely because of the sheer ugliness of the clashing colours. The lady seems to be lost within them all, but there is a strong sense of place and personality about it.

The Snapshot Aesthetic

This also appeared in the 1960s and was popular until the 1980s among art photographers. The linked article here by a student in New Zealand gives a good explanation. The fundamental basis for the aesthetic is that snapshots, with their unposed, casual feel have a sense of authentically representing the world which is absent from more formal photography. It harks back to the idea of photography being the only truthful art, capturing a moment of reality that has indisputably occurred, and something that has now been shown to be false.

Overall, the study day was interesting and it was good to meet some new students. I left after lunch and headed off to the Imperial War Museum to see Secret War and Edmund Clark’s War on Terror exhibitions. The latter was a multimedia work looking at the lives of some of the inmates who were incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay, and was very interesting.

References

http://www.aestheticamagazine.com/q-and-a-william-eggleston/

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/reviews/william-eggleston-portraits-national-portrait-gallery-review-portraits-stay-with-you-long-after-you-a7158266.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/luxury/art/william-eggleston-portraits-at-national-portrait-gallery-review/

http://www.egglestontrust.com/guide_intro.html

Lynn Berger, “Snapshots, or: Visual Culture’s Clichés,” Photographies 4, no. 2 (2011): 175-190

http://ivc.lib.rochester.edu/snapshot-aesthetics-and-the-strategic-imagination/