Since the beginning of the year, the C/O Berlin space has devoted a major exhibition to the American photographer. On the program, vast spaces, singular points of view, cars from the last century and nothing, in which there is absolutely everything.
Before becoming the illustrious craftsman of color that we know, it was in black and white that William Eggleston forged his unconventional vision of the world around him. As early as the 1960s, this admirer of Cartier-Bresson and Evans developed his monochrome films himself in the darkroom he set up at home. Clichés in which the form and so many other things – as he likes to say – are mobilized in the service of the magnetic attraction he has towards his subjects. At that time, the young flâneur wandered around Memphis and its suburbs in a desperate search for captivation, this same (and unique?) quest that seems to continue to drive him to this day. For almost six decades, William Eggleston, armed with his Leica, has braved boredom by celebrating life with images.
Photographic road trip
Eggleston’s first color image, of a profile grocery store worker pushing a line of shopping carts, opens the wide-ranging Los Alamos slate. If this title refers to the city of New Mexico where a clandestine laboratory develops the atomic bomb, this series traces more broadly the trip to the West of this boy from the South. From its hometown of Memphis, Eggleston sets sail for California via New Orleans and Las Vegas. On his way, he captures with his ardent eye the signage, the plastic crates, the service stations, the windows or the tables of the restaurants – all these emblematic details which shape the American culture and mark the advent of the society of consumption. Signs to which Eggleston impels his own dimension far exceeding what they are or represent as such to make them fully-fledged elements of a painting that he composes in 1/500 second. Color then becomes the formidable vector of a reality that only his mind seems to be able to capture.
Storyteller of a lost time
With The Outlands, William Eggleston takes us back to his beloved Memphis at the dawn of his color practice. Images, produced between 1969 and 1974, which had notably been the subject of the famous – and scandalous – exhibition of Eggleston under the aegis of curator John Szarkowski at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1976. If at the At the time this event caused ink to flow, it participated in popularizing color photography to integrate it into the rank of the arts from the 1980s. The opus The Outlands, revealed in 2020, strongly reinforces the initial selection of around 75 prints presented at the MoMa. Of these shots that we discover for the first time, some nevertheless come to us as if so familiar. Perhaps it is the perspective on the ground of the blue Dodge station wagon which is reminiscent of that of the famous tricycle on the cover of Eggleston’s Guide? Or this iced tea on the bistro table that resonates with the legendary image of the soda placed on the plane shelf with the straw that mixes the ice cubes? Either way, capturing a whole world that was doomed to disappear, Eggleston’s photographs appear half a century later like a dream that would simply be remembered as making us happy.
Noemie de Bellaigue
William Eggleston: Mystery of the Ordinary
until May 4, 2023.