Friday, December 10, 2010

William Eggleston in Los Angeles

Those of you headed to Southern California for the holidays will want to check out three major exhibits of work by Memphis photographer William Eggleston, now up in Los Angeles. Eggleston is one of the masters of contemporary fine art photography, much of whose work (like the image above, from Louisiana) was made in the South.

Eggleston has helped bring color to fine art photography. Perhaps more important, he helped make the ordinary scenes of daily life at the end of the twentieth century part of the essential subject matter of serious photography. Years before Robert Venturi published Learning from Los Vegas in 1977 and alerted us to the aesthetics of neon lights and automobile culture, Eggleston was making fine art photographs of strip malls, gas stations, grocery stores, and other manifestations of urban sprawl.

Lots of this work is now on display in Los Angeles. The Big One is at the Los Angeles Museum of Comtemporary Art  and it's entitled William Eggleston: Democratic Camera—Photographs and Video, 1961-2008. (up now  at LACMA through January 16, 2011).

There is another exhibit of Eggleston's work, entitled William Eggleston: American Photographer across the street, at the Edward Cella Gallery, through January 29, 2011.  One piece in this show is the image, below, of a truck I think my father used to own.

The third exhibit is at DNJ, with work from two of Eggleston's portfolios, William Eggleston's Graceland  (sample shown here:
and from The Democratic Forest.   Oh yes, the democracy of filling stations and trash containers and neon signs: 
My guess is that Eggleston's eye was shaped by the the strange look of Southern small-town culture after the automobile but before the interstate, by the kitsch glitziness of Nashville and country music, by the aesthetic of NASCAR and billboard advertising. One thing's for sure -- all the photographers who have made their reputations photographing the fringes of the suburban landscape -- and you know who you are -- ought to be sending him royalties. 

Of course, Los Angeles is the perfect place -- outside of Atlanta -- for a celebration of Eggleson's work. As my Aunt Effie used to say, its a hoot.

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