William Eggleston’s Guide

I listened to a lecture by John Szarkowski and William Eggleston at ICP in 1976 and purchased the catalog of Eggleston’s show.  Below are a number of verbatim quotes from the introductory essay.
The full essay is available at:  http://www.egglestontrust.com/guide_intro.html
William Eggleston’s pictures can be viewed at:  http://www.egglestontrust.com/
This site includes all of the pictures from “William Eggleston’s Guide”.

William Eggleston’s Guide
Catalog that accompanied Eggleston’s exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1976
Essay by John Szarkowski
© 1976 Museum of Modern Art, NY, NY

Page 5: “…. if a stranger sought out in good season the people and places described here they would probably seem clearly similar to their pictures and the stranger would assume that the pictures mirrored real life.  It would b marvelous if this were the case, if the place itself, ad not merely the pictures, were the work of art. …  Unfortunately, the character of our skepticism makes this difficult to believe; we are accustomed to believing instead that the meaning in a work of art is due altogether to the imagination and legerdemain of the artist.”

Page 6:  “Photography is a system of visual editing.  At bottom, it is a matter of surrounding with a frame a portion of one’s cone of vision, while standing in the right place at the right time.  Like chess, or writing, it is a matter of choosing from among given possibilities, but in the case of photography the number of possibilities is not finite but infinite.  The world now contains more photographs than bricks, and they are, astonishingly, all different.”

Page 6:  “This is why photographers prowl with such restless uncertainty about their motif, ignoring many potentially interesting records while they look for something else.”

Page 7:  “Form is perhaps the point of art.  The goal is not to make something factually impeccable, but seamlessly persuasive.  In photography the pursuit of form has taken an unexpected course.  In this peculiar art, form and subject are defined simultaneously. … one might say that a photographer’s subject is not its starting point but its destination.”

From Page 8 thru page 10, Szarkowski presents a number of interesting thoughts on the use of color in photography.  In 1976, the use of color in photographic Art was relatively new.  Serious artistic photography was mostly black and white.

Page 10-11:  “Preoccupation with private experience is a hallmark of the romantic artist, whose view is characteristically self-centered, asocial, and, at least in posture, antitraditional.  If Eggleston’s perspective is essentially romantic, however, the romanticism is different in spirit and aspect from that with which we are familiar in the photography of the past generation.  In that more familiar mode, photographic romanticism has tended to mean the adoption and adaptation of large public issues, social or philosophical, for private artistic ends (an activity that might be termed applied romanticism, as distinct from pure Wordsworthian independence), and it has generally been expressed in a style heavy with special effects:  glints and shadows, dramatic simplicities, familiar symbols , and idiosyncratic technique.”

Page 12:  “… it would be convenient if one could claim, or suggest, that this book of photographs answers, or contributes to the answer of some large social or cultural question, such as, Whither the South?  Or, Whither America? Depending on one’s viewing distance.  The fact is that Eggleston’s pictures do not seem concerned with large questions of this sort.  They seem concerned simply with describing life. …  One can say then that in these photographs form and content are indistinguishable – which is to say the pictures mean precisely what they appear to mean.  Attempting to translate these appearances into words is surely a fool’s errand, in the pursuit of which no two fools would choose the same unsatisfactory words.

Page 13:  “… the meanings of words and those of pictures are at best parallel, describing two lines of thought that do not meet; and if our concern is for the meanings in pictures, verbal descriptions are finally gratuitous.

Page 14:  “A picture is after all only a picture, a concrete kind of fiction, not to be admitted as hard evidence or as the quantifiable data of social scientists.”



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