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lessons from william eggleston about william eggleston

Is he a photographic genius? Yes, of course he is.

by Clementine de Pressigny
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23 March 2017, 9:00am

William Eggleston, Louisiana, 1971-1974, from the series Los Alamos, 1965-1974 © Eggleston Artistic Trust / Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/ London

An exhibition of William Eggleston's Los Alamos work is opening at Foam Gallery in Amsterdam. The 75 featured images, taken between 1966 and 1974, take you on an absorbing American roadtrip, a time capsule of beautiful banalities seen through William Eggleston's photographic mind's eye. He captured roadsigns, diner scenes, carparks and vast skies as he criss-crossed the states, from his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, across the Mississippi Delta and through New Mexico, Nevada and Southern California. All is equal before the lens of William's "democratic" vision, as he has described it. 

The legendary photographer, a Southern aristocrat with a penchant for guns, women, smoking and drinking, has been interviewed as frequently as he will allow, his work poured over and analysed in attempts to excavate quite how his photographic brilliance works. But for William Egglestion, all meaning in his work is right there, in what you see. So in celebration of his latest exhibition, here's Eggleston on Eggleston — the key points to know about the unknowable genius. 

William Eggleston, En Route to New Orleans, 1971-1974, from the series Los Alamos, 1965-1974 © Eggleston Artistic Trust / Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/ London

He knows he's brilliant, has always known it, and he's not backwards about coming forwards on it.

When asked if he's a genius, he replied: "Well, yes."
New York Times Style Magazine, 2016

"The immediate reviews were very hostile, but they didn't bother me — I had the attitude that I was right. The poor guys who were critics just didn't understand the works at all. I was sorry about that, but it didn't weigh on my mind a bit."  
— Interview Magazine, 2008

"The only pictures I like are the ones I've taken."
New York Times Style Magazine, 2016

William Eggleston, Santa Monica, 1974, from the series Los Alamos, 1965-1974 © Eggleston Artistic Trust / Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/ London

He does not like to analyse his work. At all.

"A picture is what it is, and I've never noticed that it helps to talk about them, or answer specific questions about them, much less volunteer information in words. It wouldn't make any sense to explain them. Kind of diminishes them. People always want to know when something was taken, where it was taken, and, God knows, why it was taken. It gets really ridiculous. I mean, they're right there, whatever they are." 
— the Guardian, 2004

"Michael Benson, curator, Candlestar, London: Novelist Donna Tartt claims to recognise 'a sparkle of menace' in your most powerful photographs. Do you agree?'"
Eggleston: 'No.'"
— The Independent, 2013

That extends to captioning his photographs, which he rarely does — he's not giving anything away that can't be gained from just looking. 

"I never thought that titles were of any help at all. In fact, they can be very distracting in many ways. If there is enough in the picture, how in the world is a title going to help? The only thing it would add is confusion."
Leica World, 2002  

William Eggleston, Memphis, 1971-1974, from the series Los Alamos, 1965-1974 © Eggleston Artistic Trust / Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/ London

His alternative career option? 

"Quantum physics."
— New York Times Style Magazine, 2016

"People I feel I'm closest to would be Stephen Hawking and my deceased friend Carl Sagan. I wasn't born at the right time to know Mr. Einstein. "I think we're doing the same thing, strange as that sounds. After all the study, images, … [physics] sums up very simply, like [photography], probability. Not to be confused with possibility or what can be accurately predicted. It's just something that probably will happen."
— W Magazine, 2016

William Eggleston, Memphis, 1971-1974, from the series Los Alamos, 1965-1974 © Eggleston Artistic Trust / Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/ London

He's a one shot wonder, so good he could do it blind. 

"I only ever take one picture of one thing. Literally. Never two. So then that picture is taken and then the next one is waiting somewhere else."
— The Guardian, 2004

"I never think about it beforehand. When I get there, something happens and in a split second the picture emerges."
— New York Times Style Magazine, 2016

"I've said this before, I think I could really photograph blind if I had to... I quite frequently don't look through the camera, which is very close to being blind."Interview Magazine, 2008

William Eggleston - Los Alamos, on at Foam Gallery from 17 March - 7 June 2017

Credits


Text Clementine de Pressigny