William Eggleston: Democratic Camera—Photographs and Video, 1961–2008 opens at LACMA in Los Angeles today, and runs through January 16th. There’s also a new book coming out from Twin Palms later this fall.
For Now is the result of film-maker Michael Almereyda’s year-long rummage through the Eggleston archives, a remarkable collection of heretofore unseen images spanning four decades of work by one of our seminal artists. Unusual in its concentration on family and friends, the book highlights an air of offhand intimacy, typical of Eggleston and typically surprising.
“I don’t see many movies, but there were a few films where the color was used brilliantly, and they made a big impression on me—Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest and [Arthur Penn’s] Bonnie and Clyde are the two I’m thinking of in particular. Something clicked in me when I saw those films—maybe it was just one minute out of the whole movie. During the same period that I was thinking about those films, I had a friend who had a job working nights at a photography lab where they processed snapshots, and I’d go visit him because we were both night owls. I started looking at these pictures coming out—they’d come out in a long ribbon—and although most of them were accidents, some were absolutely beautiful, so I started spending all night looking at these ribbons of pictures. I was particularly struck by a picture of a guy who worked for a grocery store, pushing a shopping cart out in the late-afternoon sun. I figured if amateurs working with cheap cameras could do this, I could use good cameras and really come up with something. I had a natural talent for organizing colors—not putting all the reds in one corner, for instance. Essentially what I was doing was applying intelligent painting theory to color photography.”
And then talking about romanticism.
“I’ve never understood why people describe my work as romantic, because I don’t romanticize the world. If you could turn back time and look at a place as it was when I photographed it, I think the picture and the place would look pretty much the same. I’ve never felt the need to enhance the world in my pictures, because the world is spectacular enough as it is.”