There is a William Eggleston exhibition of people just started at the National Portrait Gallery (see here for a review). On Thursday evening several of us in the group had the privilege of going to hear a conversation with him about his work. The conversation was between Bill (if I may call him that), the curator of the show and Sean O Hagan, writer on photography for the Guardian and Observer (and clearly a fan).
William Eggleston was described by Sean O Hagan as the greatest living photographer. He is now quite frail in a wheelchair but whilst he took a while to respond to questions his wit was biting - it was both an informing and hilarious evening. The work looks amazing. I am sure you don't need me to tell you that Eggleston is celebrated for the way he embraced colour photography as an art form, both causing a huge reaction and controversy in his show in New York in 1976. He is not thought of in relation to portaiture so this is quite an original representation of his work I think.
What was entertaining about the interview was that a lot of the questions were leading Eggleston to explore deeper meanings in his work or photography in general but largely he was having none of it. So to give a couple of examples he was pressed whether Warhol had influenced his work - cue 10 second pause followed by "No!". Was his work symbolic - cue 10 second pause followed by "No!". Looking back on it was it symbolic - cue 10 second pause followed by "No!". Exploring the significance of his first moving image film looking for its significance he responded "We got practically nowhere". When hanging out with various celebraties whose pictures are in the exhibition, again looking for deep conversations he responded that with Joe Strummer "Don't know what we talked about - nothing important!". It really was laugh out loud funny, as well as a lesson for those conducting the conversation into perhaps asking a few more open rather than closed question. But there were a few threads that flowed much better such as when he was asked about his friendships.
As a photographer he only takes one frame - he can't see the point of more; he doesn't take time to set up - it's not an issue; and he doesn't crop (another "no!" answer). As he reflected on travelling he suggested
As one wanders round the world often one doesn't know the next place you're going to be. It's usually some kind of suprise, mostly of a happy kind.
And when asked about the writing on various photographs in the show it seemed to get to the heart of the matter. He said the photographs speak for themselves. If you look they say a lot.
More than words it's the looking at the results that's important, not the writing or the talking. Infinitely more important is the looking!
So get yourself down there and do some looking!