Exhibition Review: William Eggelston's "Los Alamos"
By Ava McLaughlin
“Often people ask me what I am photographing. It’s a hard question to answer. And the best I have
come up with is I just say ‘life today’. I don’t know if they believe me or not. Or what that means.”
The Los Alamos Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art features the work of American photographer William Eggleston. Eggleston emerged in the 1960s as a pioneer of modern color photography and is now, 50 years later, widely considered the greatest exemplar of color photography. This exhibit features 75 dye-transfer prints from color negatives taken between 1965 and 1974, shown in full for the first time in New York City. His pictures were taken while studying the social and physical landscape of the Mississippi delta region captured on many road trips to New Orleans, New Mexico, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, among other places.
The exhibit opens with his first ever color photograph, Untitled, Memphis 1965, which features a young grocer pushing shopping carts at a supermarket in Memphis, Tennessee. His purposeful manner of capturing a regular boy, with a regular job, on a regular day sums up what the whole exhibit and his artwork is about; life today, unembellished and unposed. He provides a platform for his work solely on picturing real, everyday occurrences. His photos include people standing, sitting, or smoking in normal locations from gas stations to diners, car windows to trailer parks, and underneath the Southern blurry night skies.
His method of capturing real life is perfected through his personal discipline he describes as actively resisting perfection and only taking one shot of one particular occurance. He never takes the same shot twice because he believes “the next one is waiting somewhere else” pushing him to take new pictures in new places of new events. He states that his pictures create a sort of novel that he is writing through his natural photos and the stories they may create when pieced together, much like real life. Because he only takes photos when he naturally feels like it and with no conscious effort, he states that he doesn’t desire to go out and document posed or structured things eliminating any suffering or worry that could be found in the art of photography. He also advises people not to interpret what his photos mean because it ultimately diminishes their beauty which should be left unexplained.
He was influenced as an artist by a variance of different people in different lines of work. Some photographic influence came from Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson. He also gained inspiration from music by Bach and Baroque. Not only was he personally influenced by a range of artists, but he now influences photographers, musicians and filmmakers in newer generations. His ever present motif of commonplace realism has influenced people such as David Byrne, the Coen brothers, and David Lynch.
The exhibition also includes a small suite of Eggleston’s rarely seen black-and-white photos from the 1960s and 1970s that he photographed while capturing Los Alamos.
Los Alamos will be on display from February 14-May 18 at the MET