Wednesday, May 6, 2009

William Eggleston

Here's a real treat: two items from William Eggleston's past.

One is a flyer for a group show which includes Eggleston's work.

The other is a postcard.

The flyer has historical relevance and comes with a backstory.

The postcard is...well, just the sort of thing that I started this site to share because of it's inherent "gee whiz" quality. Alas, I have no context for it except that "it was made for a friend."

The flyer first; the back story and history follows; some current info on Eggleston; the postcard to end the post.

Paper, 1972, 4 x 8.5 inches.

The Corcoran Photography Workshop Invitational.

The time is the early 1970s.

The place, Washington, D.C.

William Eggleston and William Christenberry met in 1962 in Memphis, Tennessee, when Christenberry moved to Eggleston's home town to teach art at Memphis State University. Christenberry spent six years in Memphis before moving to D.C. to accept a professorship at the Corcoran College of Art and Design. One day Eggleston visited Christenberry in D.C., and was introduced to John Gossage, who lived across the street, and Walter Hopps (then, director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, he died in 2005). Eggleston had with him a box of prints--color and b&w--and showed the work to all assembled. Everyone was impressed. Hopps was "stunned. I had never seen anything like it."

The Corcoran Gallery of Art on 17th Street had an annex by Dupont Circle. The Corcoran and Hopps let Gossage, Mark Power and Joe Cameron (all three exhibiting photographers and educators in the metropolitan area though Gossage was also on the verge of giving up a career as a guitarist) use the building, which evolved into the Corcoran Photography Workshop with a darkroom on one floor, work/meeting room on another and a big empty room on the ground floor which became an exhibition space.

For the group shows that were held there, those running the Workshop would each ask one or two artists to hang work. So, Gossage invited Eggleston to show his work at the Workshop. He accepted the invitation and hung a bunch of color prints. What we have above is the announcement for that show, in 1972, which was the first show William Eggleston's work appeared in.

The other four photographers on the announcement are also historically interesting:

Work by Linda Connor and the cover of her recent book, Odyssey

I'll assume everyone knows Linda Connor's work. Supposedly, she exhibited hand-colored collages in this show. I'm not familiar with that work and it's not included in the retrospective volume, Odyssey: The Photographs of Linda Connor, published last year spanning thirty years of image-making. In 1972, she too was an educator, in her case, in the Photography Department of the San Francisco Art Institute. She still teaches there.

Work by Richard Benson

R.M.A. Benson is Richard Benson, who recently wrote The Printed Picture and curated the accompanying show at MoMA, NYC, with Peter Galassi. He's arguably the best photo-mechanical printer in the country. In fact, he developed some of the technologies used in the industry today to reproduce photographs in ink. He is a MacArthur Fellow, former Dean of the Yale School of Art and still teaches there. In 1972, besides making photos of his own, he was working with Lincoln Kirstein on a book called Lay This Laurel, an album of photographs of the Augustus Saint-Gaudens Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw. (Dawoud Bey, on his blog, writes about studying with Benson and presents a 1984 photo of Benson by Lee Friedlander. 5B4 reviewed The Printed Picture here. The exhibit at MoMA is up till mid-July of this year.)

Work by Douglas Gilbert and the cover of his book,
Forever Young: Photographs of Bob Dylan

Douglas Gilbert is a photojournalist. He was a staff photographer for LOOK magazine in the mid-1960s and a freelance photographer for most of the rest of his career. In 1972, he would have just started an art professorship at Wheaton College, IL. He is perhaps best known for photographs he took for LOOK of Bob Dylan in 1964, just before Dylan's popularity exploded. They were published as Forever Young: Photographs of Bob Dylan, in 2005. You can also see his some of his work here.

Work by Rachel Homer

I'm told that Rachel Homer exhibited polaroids in this show. True or not, she also made documentary photographs. In 1972, she was in Boulder, CO, at the Naropa Institute where she photographed Allen Ginsburg and his crowd and continued to photograph there for a number of years. In the mid-1960s, she was romantically involved with Danny Lyon and in fact, is pictured in Lyon's Destruction of Lower Manhattan (plate 29 in the 1969 edition captioned "Rachel" and plate 31 in the powerHouse edition, 2005, titled "Rachel Homer.") She also comes up in the epilogue of the second edition where it appears that Lyon is saying that Homer accompanied him to Texas when he shot the images for Conversations with the Dead.

That's a pretty interesting group of photographers in one show. I'd like to think that the opening was a swinging affair, it being 1972 and all. Sadly, the Workshop operated on a slender shoestring and couldn't afford an opening.

The poster and book jacket for Eggleston's show, Paris

Back to Eggleston: There is currently an exhibit of his work at the Fondation Cartier pour l'art Contemporain in Paris (through June.) It's called Paris and it presents not only the photographs that he has been making in Paris for the last three years but also some of his drawings, previously unexhibited. There is of course a catalogue, of the same name, published by the Fondation with Steidl, and the drawings are included in it. For those interested in collectable books, there was an edition of 100 slipcased and signed copies. (Having brought that up, I also need to mention that it's sold out. And while we're on the topic, the regular edition seems to be sold out in most places, too.) But perhaps even more rare is the video of Eggleston playing Bach on the piano which can be found on the Fondation Cartier's website. (Go here, click on English > What's On > William Eggleston > videos.)

Slipping back into contemplation of things past, it's been reported before but it's a story worth retelling: how Christenberry was in some small way responsible for nudging Eggleston toward color photography.

Before moving to Memphis in 1962, Christenberry lived in New York. There, he met Walker Evans and showed him photographs of Hale County, Alabama, where Evans had photographed for what became Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and where, coincidentally, Christenberry's grandparents lived. The photos were nothing more than drug-store processed, color pics that he had shot with a Brownie as reference for his paintings. But Evans proclaimed them "perfect little poems" and insisted that Christenberry take the work seriously. Being young, he of course didn't take them seriously, till much later.

Meanwhile, Eggleston was shooting b&w like anyone else who was influenced by Henri Cartier-Bresson's The Decisive Moment (which Eggleston certainly was.) Around 1964-65, in Memphis, Christenberry showed Eggleston the painting-reference photos. The color in the images and the lack of pretense in the content impressed Eggleston so much that he started to experiment with color in his photography. "It's interesting to think that if Evans hadn't encouraged Christenberry to go back to the South," said Hopps, "Eggleston might still be a black-and-white photographer."

This last item may be another experiment. It's possible Eggleston could build on this for a late career shift.

Postcard, 1985, 6 x 4.25 inches



BTW, I would have linked to the William Eggleston Trust website, which has some things worth seeing on it, except that it's down. When I visited it tonight, it had been hacked and disabled. If anyone can tell us why, I would love to know.

The link is restored.

Images courtesy of John Gossage.

1 comment:

Jimmy said...

It's probably hacked because some admin left a door open. The door is detected by a program and the website is then "hacked" by some script kiddie who probably has no idea who Eggleston is.