Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It's All in the Details...

Whilst operations at TOoT incline temperamentally & philosophically toward the tendency of Slow Blogging (as defined & presented in Todd Sieling's manifesto), a week now having elapsed since its broadcast, it is perhaps time to acknowledge the excellent 'Imagine' BBC TV documentary on the subject of William Eggleston & his work, focussing as one might suppose on the photography for which he is particularly renowned but also including examples of videography & dabblings in music.

The film afforded a wonderful glimpse into the world of Eggleston (a magnificent artistic creation), not least with the camera following him as he pottered around his home town of Memphis, Tennessee, snapping suitably banal, apparently unremarkable, often care-worn & shabby subject matter as he chanced upon, allowing access to his specific modus operandi - particularly the self-imposed discipline of taking but one shot of a given scene or angle of approach - that appears informal yet produces such finely-balanced & compelling pictorial results.
Furthermore, illustrated throughout with sequences of stills of any number of familiar, iconic images & others seen for the first time (by this viewer, at least), the film supplemented Eggleston's work & enlightened aspects of its creative production via interviews with the man himself (measured & succinct in his thoughtful, illuminating & often profound pronouncements), members of his immediate & extended family & also fellow photographers such as Juergen Teller & Martin Parr, providing first-hand anecdotal evidence of situations, methods & processes that accumulated into a fascinating, entertaining, characterful portrait of the artist & his work (including the free-flowing, streams-of-consciousness film 'Stranded in Canton') in context, being itself an exemplary production, rewarding to experience & more so to return to (having been recorded for just such purposes).

Suitably inspired, it then became imperative to invest immediately in the now obviously 'essential', long Amazon wish-listed book 'William Eggleston: Democratic Camera', published to accompany the major retrospective exhibition beginning last year at the Whitney Museum in New York & continuing via Munich & various US locations until 2011.
Liberally illustrated with examples of Eggleston's early monochrome & subsequent ground-breaking colour photography & supported by a series of historically informative critical essays, the book is an excellent resource for concentrated study of the artist's work, paying appropriate homage to Eggleston's talent as a chronicler of the apparently more mundane, prosaic aspects of American life & vernacular culture as radiating from but centred upon Memphis & the environs of the small-town & semi-rural mid South of the US.

One might categorize Eggleston's practice & aesthetic as a particularly fine (& finely-crafted & -honed) if idiosyncratic example of the art of 'looking at the overlooked' - democratically in that no subject or aspect of is more or less important than another - & capturing it for studied contemplation, over which time such apparently everyday, trivial subject matter reveals its mysterious, strangely-fascinating & visually compelling nature, creating its own pictorial logic & reality as communicated through Eggleston's exquisite sense of colour.

So many of the photographs display a wonderful, perfect yet unsettling stillness & quiet that haunts the images themselves &, in the act of apprehending them, one's thoughts & imaginative faculties, suggesting narrative developments even if this, as stated, is not the artist's particular intention: (almost) nothing might appear to be present & happening, but this very minimalism is profoundly compelling - less is indeed more judged by the evidence of such subtly, perfectly weighted compositions.
From such initially-apparent banal subject matter, details emerge to captivate:
below, for instance, in the midst of the delightfully abject-yet-somehow-attempting-the-monumental (one might surmise) shop window display (a piece of folk art in itself that readily suggests much Minimalism in its arrangement of multiples of simple geometric forms, & Warhol too of course), the single box amongst the many of 'Sweet 'n' Low' that, to the right, has slipped to the diagonal creates a certain sense of tension, pictorially & psychologically,

whilst here, literally frozen in space & time, one feels a strange desire to sample, for instance, Frozen Acres 'Tasty Taters' &/or 'Bavarian Style Beans and Spaetzle', the whole arrangement being poignant in its personal choice of ubiquitous convenience foods.

I might relate such an image of that freezer compartment to those photographs taken a while ago of the aged, abandoned contents of the bathroom cabinet at home, whilst the discarded matter - including tin cans - in the photograph of the road- & kerb-side below resonate with the current personal similar subject matter of drinks container 'roadkill': this, perhaps, is where the value of Eggleston's aesthetic lies, in capturing & presenting the individual amidst the general, slowing the pace of the endless procession of things in space & time, encouraging the spectator to look closely, & with wonder, at another's vision of the world & that which might otherwise be overlooked, disregarded as unworthy of attention.

all images of pages from 'William Eggleston: Democratic Camera - Photographs and Video, 1961 - 2008'

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