William Eggleston has long been lauded as one of photography's pioneers. But this year is looking especially good for him: tomorrow a major retrospective opens at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and this fall sees the publication of a new book,
William Eggleston For Now, from Twin Palms Press. The book collects previously unseen photographs unearthed by filmmaker Michael Almereyda, whose movies include Nadja (1994), Hamlet (2000), and William Eggleston in the Real World (2005)), from Eggleston's picture archive. Here Almereyda offers a personal view on Eggleston's work.
William Eggleston’s photographs are always about looking. They distill a sense of heightened attention—alertness, anticipation, awe—from fragments of ordinary, unmanipulated reality. But the “ordinary” in Eggleston is often charged with an air of mystery and menace, a Halloween atmosphere leaking into every season he records. A quality of vulnerability and play converges with unease, dread, the possibility of mayhem.
This new book, William Eggleston For Now, presents over 90 previously unpublished color photographs pulled from Eggleston's back files, spanning four decades of work. The title is meant as an open nod to the immediacy of pictures plucked from near-oblivion, a salute to their freshness, their nowness. The selection is tidier, more self-contained, than I first expected––a bouquet brought back from an archival jungle. Most of the pictures feature people, and many of the subjects are the photographer’s blood relations and close friends. The emotional temperature is at once tender and aloof, extending to images of strangers in parking lots and suburban yards, which is aligned with Eggleston’s enduring fascination with frayed commercial spaces, cars, signs, cracked sidewalks, light bulbs, bricks, clouds, with rural porches, broken fences, spilled trash, ditches, puddles, architectural gaps and divides—the spaces between spaces, the mundane, the makeshift, all the fragmentary raw proofs of civilization as a perishable human construction that, nevertheless, provide subject matter for vibrant photographs.
When I reviewed a rough layout with Bill, he was pleased to see so many pictures he had clean forgotten about. He offered his approval alongside a bemused comment that the book comes close to being a family album.