Seeing the World: William Eggleston

Ever since digital photography came around I’ve felt a bit disillusioned as a photographer. Perhaps it wasn’t so much me that changed, but the fact that everyone around me suddenly had a camera too (ahem, even the non-photographers). Without the limits of a roll of film, I can shoot endlessly, but am not necessarily more satisfied with the results. In fact, I end up creating more work – uploading, sorting, organizing, editing, sharing – than before. Lately I’ve found myself taking too many overall shots that feel generic and touristy.

So after visiting the Corcoran the other day with Margaret (you’ll remember her from this Boarding Pass) and seeing the work of William Eggleston, I felt refreshed and re-inspired (I didn’t realize how long it had been since I’d been to a photo exhibition). Not only did I love his work, but seeing it with Margaret also helped open my eyes.
The first shot we come across, Margaret comments, I love this photo, but I would crop it differently. We then proceed to pull up our hands close to our faces and use them as crop tools. The artist has made his selection, but we are not without our opinions. A few photos later we saw a shot that reminded us both of one her dad had taken that stuck with us both. And then we pulled out a bit of our past from a class we both took in college called The Culture and History of Still Photography. We channeled our inner Roland Barthes finding the studium – the meanings we can draw from the clues in the pictures – guessing about what was happening in the scenes past, and the punctum – those small details not intentionally caught [or accidents] by the photographer which add significance – within the photographs. Then we pondered, were these photographs as charming back in the day (the ’60s) or do we see them differently today with a sense of nostalgia? Like this shot of the kitchen sink – it’s probably way cooler now than it was back then. Classic.
How do you “see” when you look at a photograph?

Note: the Corcoran is one of the few museums you have to pay for on the Mall, but it’s worth it (for less crowds if nothing else). Saturdays are also free in the summer. William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961–2008 is on now through September 20th.

{image: William Eggleston, Memphis, 1975 dye transfer print Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC}


  • Oh my goodness I must go. In my photography class where we had to shoot in the style of a photographer we admired I chose Eggleston. What a great post and wonderful blog!

  • Anne this is a really good post. I took a long time to convert to digital not because I’m a pro but I just wanted to get it right with film before becoming a lazy digital user. I tend to see things in black and white – Ansel Adams, and the unusual – Diane Arbor. Will I ever be at that level? I’m a realist.

  • I just recently took photography more seriously by buying my first D-SLR and its been a lot harder than simply using a point and shoot. I must have taken over a 1000 pictures before I started to get some shots that I liked…I can’t imagine starting out as a film photographer!

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