Tag Archives: Hara Museum of Contemporary Art

Taking our time with William Eggleston

William Eggleston at the Hara Museum, Tokyo -- June 2010 -- Donald Eubank Photo

There is no rush around here to be posting, just like there is no rush when you are having a conversation with a real Southerner. Last week an interview that I had the pleasure of doing with the photographer William Eggleston at the Hara Museum in the late afternoon of a sunny June day in Tokyo was published in The Japan Times. A resident of Mississippi and Tennessee, Eggleston was the first art photographer to have an a solo exhibition of color pictures (as he calls them) at the MOMA in New York. The show was — surprising if you think about it — as late as 1976, but was still, famously, labeled the “worst exhibition of the year” by one critic among a number of others who had negative reactions.

Looking back at the transcript there are of course other questions that I wish I had broached with him, and more that I had read in advance in preparation. But I was already wary of expecting too much having read others’ accounts of their time speaking with Eggleston and from having watched the dreamy, day-in-the-life documentary “William Eggleston in the Real World” by director Michael Almereyda.

I suspect now that there is a certain dis-ingeniousness to his posture — his unwillingness to answer deeper questions — but at the same time, I am sure that it comes from a real lack of desire to get into conversations about what he does … and that’s fine.

The JT interview had to cut the last bit, where we talked briefly about art writing. Here it is, along with my request to take a photo:

DE: I find it difficult writing about art, because I don’t consider myself a critic. I am an observer, or a fan. But there is a whole industry of people out there writing words and words

Eggleston: — yesss, I know, I know!

DE: Do you think it is all fruitless? Is it a shell game?

WE: Probably what happens is that a certain writer calls himself a critic, probably is assigned to write something about some artist, I don’t think they know what to write. Speaking very generally.

DE: Not naming names …

WE: There are certain brilliant minds out there.

DE: When I read the essay to “William Eggleston’s Guide” by (MOMA curator John) Szarkowski, what impressed me about it the most was that he was addressing the exact same issues that I have seen people attempt to address in the past five, 10 years with the rise of digital photography. And this is a document that’s now about 40 years old, and it was right on the spot at the beginning of a new world of art photography, but people are still struggling with the same questions.

WE: He had a stroke and died last year. We were extremely close friends. Worked together. He would help put together exhibitions and books with my stuff. We worked very hard at it.

DE: Is your son also a photographer?

WE: Not really, I would call him an archivist, because he is putting order into all these works of mine, which are a real mess. He’s got a hard job.

DE: Do you have plans for what you want to do with them?

WE: No, I don’t. I’ll continue publishing books, and traveling all around the world to different places. I can’t think of anything more to add.

DE: Can I take a picture?

— Pause —

(Click.)

WE: Good. It’s done.

DE: I am going to stop by the opening tomorrow for a glass of wine.

WE: I don’t drink wine , they don’t make it in Mississippi you know. I want you to share a glass of whiskey with me.

DE: That would be fantastic.

(End of Interview)

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