Eggelston – eccentric beauty and wonder

November 18th, 2008 by amy

Untitled (St. Simons Island, Georgia), 1978

“Untitled,” circa 1975

“Untitled,” 1973

Peter Schjeldahl, in his New Yorker review Local Color: William Eggleston at the Whitney states:

You can always tell a William Eggleston photograph. It’s the one in color that hits you in the face and leaves you confused and happy, and perhaps convinces you that you don’t understand photography nearly as well as you thought you did. To view “William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008,” at the Whitney, is to be pummelled by eccentric beauty, and to wonder about it.

Schejeldahl’s review is is lucid, poetic and charming. He encapsulates so well the appeal and art of Eggelston’s work. Heres another gem:

…there’s no gainsaying Eggleston’s results. He shoots like a shutterbug and executes like a painter. Synthetic gorgeousness iconizes pictures that flaunt the nonchalance of snapshots.

I only disagree with Schjeldahl’s assertion that:

… the emotional key to his genius is a stoical loathing, unblinking in the face of one scandalously uncongenial otherness after another. His subjects have no ascertainable dignity, except that of stubbornly existing.

No dignity?

The girl at the commonplace counter with her red hair glowing like its own sunset stands as regally as the famous Elizabeth Siddal (Rossetti’s muse and a painter in her own right) whom she so resembles.

The girl lying sprawled on the grass is like a modern Ophelia (camera in hand, not flowers) who will, after soaking up the sun, not drown but jump up and run around the yard again.


I think Eggleston’s subjects, prosaic as they are, are fascinating precisely because of their homely rightness. His work does not look like loathing to me, rather detached observation but not angry, not demeaning. His photos are fascinating precisely because of their normality. A good photographer can make an attractive photograph out of a beautiful sunset or view or model but for me, the artistry, the genius of Eggelston is that he finds and distills the the interesting or the beautiful out of the dull or garish or common that surrounds us all the time.

(see more images at Time and The New York Times and The Eggelston Trust)

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