“It quickly came to be that I grew interested in photographing whatever was there wherever I happened to be. For any reason” (Eggleston, N.D. as cited by O'Hagan 2004).
William Eggleston was born in the Tallachatchie Country, of Mississippi Delta in 1939. His mother and father were aristocrats, who owned cotton plantations in the South of America. At the age of ten the first book given to Eggleston, by his mother was Roulette de Chirico by (Roulette de Chirico, 1931).
The book American Photographs by (Evans, 1938) and the Decisive Moment by (Bresson, 1952) contributed to Eggleston’s interest in photography. It was the monographs, the use of angles and Bressons use of his subject matter that inspired Eggleston. “His were the first pictures I’d seen which weren’t just straight on pictures like everybody else’s. He had angles like Degas or Toulouse-Lautrec one picture after another. I think I understood Evans, but my real discovery was Cartier-Bresson” (Eggleston, N.D. as cited by Holborn, 1992). Bressons use of tonal plates, fascinated Eggleston, rather than the photographs in the decisive moment.
“I think of them as parts of a novel, I’m doing” (Eggleston, 1970). These were the first words that William Eggleston said to Walter Hopps, when meeting for the first time at the Corcoran Gallery in 1970. William Christenberry was a photographer originating from Hale Country. It was Christenberry was responsible for introducing Hopps to Eggleston.
In 1974 Eggleston was awarded the Guggenheim fellowship in photography. With the funds received from the fellowship, this enabled Eggleston to travel around various states in America. The journey began in Eggleston’s hometown of Memphis, followed by Mississippi Delta, New Orleans, Las Vegas, South California and finally ending the journey at the Santa Monica Pier. Several years on from their first meeting at the Corcon Gallery, Hopps and the actor Dennis Hopper, accompanied Eggleston on the road.
In his essay “Draft of a Presentation,” (Weski, 2003) wrote “I imagine the trips for Los Alamos were part of a creative process. Did he go on these road trips in order to take photographs, or were the photographs the result of a time spent with friends” (Weski, 2003).
Translated as the ‘Cottonwoods,’ between the Valles Caldera, and the White Rock Canyon, lies the small town of Los Alamos, situated in New Mexico. In 1973 Eggleston along with the actor Dennis Hopper and Walter Hopps, set out on the open road. When driving through the Jemes mountains and passing through the gates of a secret laboratory, Eggleston turned to Hopps and said, 'You know, I'd like to have a secret lab like that myself.' (Eggleston, 1973). The laboratory formally known as project Y, was the birthplace for the atomic bomb in 1940, along with weapons of mass destruction.
In 2003 the Swiss art publishers Scalo published the photobook Los Alamos (Eggleston, 2003). The book comes as a standard (A3) and is presented in portrait formation. When returning from their trip, the total amount of photographs taken by Eggleston amounted to 2,200. Bernard Fischer who worked for Scalo in 2003, was the editor of the book. He selected 176 photographs from the collection to appear in Los Alamos (Eggleston, 2003). Eleven portraits are included in the book. These are not of the residents of the town, but of the people from various states. Fischer includes a further 165 photographs taken by Eggleston. The photographs are of everyday objects, what one would consider as strange, ordinary or even the banal. The remaining photographs have been included in Los Alamos Revisited, (Eggleston, 2012) which was published in 2012. Although the photographs were taken by Eggleston in the small town of New Mexico, both Los Alamos revisited (Eggleston, 2012) and Los Alamos (Eggleston, 2003), are very different from one another. Both of the books, were edited at different times, published in different years and the editors were Eggleston’s son Winston and Caldecott Chubb.
The photographs in the book are of the mundane and of the ordinary. Fischer includes photographs of stop signs, exterior of an American dinner, leather interior of a classic American car and ketchup bottles on a wooden counter. The same photograph is used in Los Alamos Revisited (Eggleston, 2012). However in that photograph the portrait of the girl from Biloxi Mississippi, stands to wait for her order. Eggleston gives us no indication as to whether this was before or after he photographed her. The portrait of the young woman has been included in Los Alamos Revisited (Eggleston, 2012). The photographs that Eggleston was producing, had come a long way since the days of the Group f/64. This was a group of photographers from Edward Weston, Sonya Noskowiak, Imogen Cunningham, Ansel Adams and John Paul Edwards. America was changing and so was the photography world.
Up until 1960, Eggleston continued to work exclusively in monochrome. Swarkowski describing the black and white photograph as, “the photographers understood that the old pictures were not natural to begin with, but were merely conceits, black-and-white photographs, infinitesimal bits of experience chosen because they looked good, and seemed to mean something, as pictures” (Szarkowski, 1976) The use of colour in photograph, was only used in fashion and advertising campaigns. The advertising company BBDO used colour as part of their advertisements.
In 1976 the Museum of Modern Art, opened their doors to the public and exhibited ‘Colour Photographs’ by William Eggleston (Eggleston, 1976). Curated by John Szarkowski, this was Eggleston’s first show. The exhibition was described as "the most hated show of the year" (Glover, 2013 as cited by The Independent 2013). Art critic Hilton Kramer stated “these pictures belong to the world of snapshot chic” (Kramer, 1976 as cited by Evening Standard 2016). The photographs from the exhibition were included in William Eggleston’s Guide (Eggleston, 1976).
Rauschenberg, Stieglitz and Leiter, were the first photographers, to experiment with colour as a photographic medium. “There are” he said, “the things that are out in the open and there are the things that are hidden, and life- the real world-has more to do with what is hidden” (Eggleston, N.D. as cited by O'Hagan 2004). It was the year of 1967 that Eggleston followed in the footsteps of Leiter and Rauschenberg. He began working and experimenting with colour. The process used was one that was regarded as the cousin of technicolour, known as Kodachrome dye transfer. Evans stated, “There are four simple words for the matter, which must be whispered: colour photography is vulgar” (Evans, 1969).
From experimenting with the use of colour in a photo processing lab over in Chicago, Eggleston stated, “I went straight up there to look, and everything I saw was commercial work, like pictures of cigarette packs or perfume bottles, but the color saturation and the quality of the ink was overwhelming. I couldn’t wait to see what a plain Eggleston picture would look like with the same process. Every photograph I subsequently printed with the process seemed fantastic, and each one seemed better than the previous one” (Eggleston, N.D. as cited by Holborn, 1992).
Eggleston’s practice is concerned with photographing, what can be described as the ‘banal.’ “A case, if not of the blind leading the blind, at least the banal leading the banal” (The New York Times, 1976 as cited by The Guardian 2016). He encompasses patriotism for America through the medium of photography. Eggleston uses colour as a mechanism when photographing the banal, the everyday object.
The photographs featured in Los Alamos, contain all things Americana. Motels, religious symbolism, dinners, American automobiles, an advertisement for Delta Kreme, a glass bottle of coco cola, a jukebox attached to a wall, a women staring at Eggleston’s from inside a parked car as he clicks his camera and a collection of dolls are placed neatly on the front of a Cadillac. These are some of Egglestons subjects. Throughout his career, he has always stated “I don’t have favourites. I look at pictures democratically. To me they are equal” (Eggleston, N.D. as cited by Caponigro 2013). He regards his subject matter as equals. “I want to make a picture that could stand on its own, regardless of what it was a picture of. I’ve never been a bit interested in the fact that this was a picture of a blues musician or a street corner or something” (Eggleston, N.D. as cited by Caponigro 2013).
Eggleston photographs his subjects at an angle and this is visible throughout the book. He would often lean out of the windows of Mustangs and Cadillacs, trying to get that snapshot. Eggleston does not provide the audience with the geographical location, as to where he is photographing in. Eggleston is more concerned with the subject matter, rather than the state. One might argue, that Eggleston is a documentarist. Due to the nature and subject matter of his work. “I don’t have a burning desire to go out and document anything. It just happens when it happens. It’s not a conscious effort, nor is it a struggle. Wouldn’t do it if it was. The idea of the suffering artist has never appealed to me. Being here is suffering enough” (Eggleston, N.D. as cited by O'Hagan 2004).
Many would disagree with what Eggleston claims, in terms of not being a documentarist, “I do not call myself a documentary photographer because I do not feel associated with people and their problems every day. I’m not Magnum” (Eggleston, 2015, P. 170).
When Eggleston was photographing in 1966-1974, America was undergoing significant change. Ronald Regan was elected as president, infrastructure was changing and the economy was affected by the recession. The old South that he once knew, when he was growing up as a child was changing into the new. “I cannot really tell how the change of America is affecting my photographs, it could be, but not noticeable to me. It changes them, I was going to say slowly, but actually I’m not sure that is true. It is dependent on the person” (Eggleston, N.D. as cited by Bourton).
Eggleston used a Leica camera and a Rangefinder Mamiya Camera, when photographing the different states across America. Los Alamos (Eggleston, 2003) opens with a photograph of a landscape, in standard portrait format. Eggleston made an entire series of cloud like landscapes. The majority of the photographs can be seen in Eggleston’s book, The Democratic Forest Selected Works (Eggleston, 1986).
The use of Kodachrome gives the photograph and effect, as if the image had been painted onto the paper, in which it was printed on. The clouds are somewhat dreamlike and conveys the feeling of nostalgia. A close friend of Eggleston’s at the time, Eudora Welty, gave a description as to what you can expect from Eggleston, in terms of subject matter, “Old tyres, Dr Pepper machines, discarded air-conditioners, vending machines, empty and dirty Coca-Cola bottles, torn posters, power poles and power wires, street barricades, one-way signs, detour signs, No Parking signs, parking meters and palm trees crowding the same curb” (Welty, 1989). Throughout Los Alamos, Eggleston’s use of subject matter is similar to what she describes.
‘The Democratic Forest Selected Works’ was not published until (Eggleston, 2016). When analyzing the photography in that book, the work is similar with the photographs featured in Los Alamos. “His prodigious output has barely been seen, yet he is only in midstride. He continues to cut to the heart of the ordinary, probing at those things which constitute tangible dimensions, like some concreate explorer. Or as, a great exotic, he can be in the kitchen or in Zanzibar, starring at the dirt by his boot or looking up at the sky (Eggleston, N.D. as cited by Holborn, 1992).
When on the open road with Hopps and Dennis Hopper, the journey began in Eggleston’s hometown of Memphis, Mississippi Delta. In the essay Introduction to William Eggleston's Guide, Szarkowski (Szarkowski, 2003) goes onto discuss, “It would be marvellous to think that the ordinary, vernacular life in and around Memphis might be in its quality more sharply incised, formally clear, fictive, and mysteriously purposeful than it appears elsewhere, endowing the least pretentious of raw materials with ineffable dramatic possibilities” (Szarkowski, 2003).
Shot on a colour negative to produce, Eggleston regards this photograph as his first successful print, when using Kodachrome. “Some kind of pimply, freckle-faced guy in the late sunlight. And by God, it all worked” (Eggleston, N.D. as cited by Searle, 2016).
Fischer has included this as the first portrait in the photobook. Underneath the photograph there is no citation and no text is included. “I had this new exposure system in mind of overexposing film, so all the colours would be there. The first frame I remember, was a guy pushing a grocery cart” (Eggleston, N.D. as cited by Klingelfuss 2016).
Half way through the book, Fischer includes photographs of the banal. The everyday object, one that you would not think about looking at twice.
Religious symbolism, a bottle of coca cola rests on the bonnet of a parked car, a parade of shops, a large yellow container and a group of dolls. Mexican food is advertised in the shop window and Eggleston makes sure to photograph the mustang parked out front. “If you take off the viewfinder of the camera, you end up looking more intensely as you walk around. When it is time to make the photograph it is all ready for you. If you have looked intently you know where to point the thing” (Eggleston, N.D. as cited by Holborn, 1992).
It was Bernard Fischer who edited (Los Alamos, 2003).When turning the pages of the book you come to realise that, there is no sequential order of the photographs. We are aware that Eggleston photographed in five different states in America. However there is no information in terms of the geographical location. Eggleston was more interested in photographing the object, environment and the people, rather than the location. “The Length span of images from these travels was for him something like a fragment of a novel- a sympathetic viewer could not avoid bringing some narrative order, however disjunctive to the sequence” (Eggleston, N.D. as cited by Holborn, 1992). If the photographs featured in Los Alamos were edited sequentially, then the book would not read as well. By not sequencing the photographs, Eggleston’s work remains nostalgic.
Bernard Fischer included eleven portraits in (Los Alamos, 2003). At the beginning of the book, the photograph of the young clerk pushing the shopping cart is the first portrait that the reader is introduced to. This is followed on with imagery of the everyday object, the banal as Eggleston himself put it. Turning the pages of the book, it is not long before Fischer introduces the audience to yet another portrait, which is presented in landscape format. Two men sit at a pinball machines. One wears a yellow polo shirt, while the other man stares at the machine in front of him. The songwriter and friend of Eggleston David Byrne, comments on Eggleston’s photographs, “Bill Eggleston’s stuff sure didn’t strike me at first as ‘good’ Photography. I mean, everything isn’t always in focus, the ‘subject’ isn’t always in the center (it’s sometimes chopped off!) and the framing sure ain’t what they advertised in the Kodak manual. And, to top it off, unlike a lot of ‘documentary’ pictures, one can’t even tell what some of the pictures are about.” (Byrne, 2014)
Two portraits are included towards the end of Los Alamos. The first portrait is presented in landscape form. The second and final photograph in the book was photographed by Eggleston at the Santa Monica Pier. The photograph is of a woman, who stands with what appears to be her children. Eggleston photographs the females, from behind a car which is parked on the pier. At the beginning of the book, the first portrait that Fischer includes was of a young white clerk. When comparing the two photographs, is the editor Bernard Fischer looking at the idea of race and colour through photography. ‘Few photographers alive today have had such a profound influence on the way photographs are made and seen as William Eggleston. His pictures are as fresh and exciting as they were when they first grabbed the public’s attention in the 1970s. There is nothing quite like the color in an Eggleston photograph, radiant in their beauty, that get deep under the skin and linger in the imagination’ (Prodger, 2016 as cited by Clarendon, 2016).
Los Alamos has been designed as (A3) and is presented in portrait formation (Los Alamos, 2003). Photographs included in the book are both landscape and portrait. Fischer has edited the book, so that the photographs appear on the right hand side of every page. There is only one photograph per page in the book. If two photographs had of been included on one page, then the work would look over complicated. By not placing text underneath the photographs, it presents the audience with an air of mystery and nostalgia. Something that Eggleston tried to create throughout his career.
Fischer has chosen to include simple text on the front cover of the book. Alongside the title of the book, the photograph of the girl in the brown skirt has made it onto the cover. Eggleston keeps the females identity a mystery, as he photographs her from the neck down. The child like pattern on her blouse, is neatly tucked inside of her brown pinafore. The only clue in this photograph is the letter P, which appears on her left hand along.
Turning the page of the book, Fischer includes a small paragraph by Walter Hobbs, who accompanied Eggleston on the road trip. In the text, Hobbs gives a brief account of his time spent with Eggleston.
The title and the photographers name William Eggleston, has been printed on the spine of the book. On the back cover, Fischer includes a short quote by Weski, “As one of the few original photographers, William Eggleston has written the story Los Alamos (1966-1974) in his own language, and hence the images are an expression of his vision. In an adventurous balancing act between disturbing content and seductive beauty, the author shows us the fragility of our existence” (Weski, 2003)
Los Alamos exists on its own as a photobook, due to what it stands for. However when retuning from the various states with Eggleston, Hopps decided that he wanted to exhibit the photographs. The negatives from the trip, became separated from the photographs. This resulted in the book not being published until 2003. The remaining photographs that Fischer had not included were featured in (Los Alamos revisited, 2003) “I don’t have a burning desire to go out and document anything. It just happens when it happens. It’s not a conscious effort, nor is it a struggle. Wouldn’t do it if it was. The idea of the suffering artist has never appealed to me. Being here is suffering enough” (Eggleston, N.D. as cited by Caponigro, 2013).