Friday, January 23, 2004

William Eggleston at Cheim and Read.

Eggleston was one of if not the first photographers whose color work was taken seriously as art. He finds color and beauty in mundane scenes that aren't typically considered worthy subjects: a refrigerator freezer, shoes and junk under his bed; as well as street photos of people, some of whom regard him suspiciously.

"Precolor" exhibits his less-seen b&w photography. Some of it reminded me of Robert Frank and Gary Winogrand, other street photographers with an eye for dramatic, low-lit scenes of Americans and sometimes American paranoia. Other shots looked just like things he might have shot in color: my favorite was a column of stacking banquet chairs, two-thirds to the ceiling of a non-descript hallway.

There was also a video installation. I had no idea he shot moving images, but there was a half-hour excerpt of b&w video footage shot in 1974, presumably in Memphis, his stomping grounds. "Stranded in Canton" is named by one of the film's subjects, a Meathead-era Rob-Reiner lookalike who goes on an extended drunken riff that included a schpiel on "Canton", which he pronounced with what might have been a French accent. Of the few people who wandered into this installation, most left in a few minutes - the camera work was shaky, jukebox music got loud (a drunk old queen sings along to Zeppelin), Meathead took a piss, Meathead took a dump, some good-old boys watched a geek chew the heads off live chickens (a close-up of the guy's mouth showed his gold teeth); so I guess there was enough there to drive people away. It's an ugly and disturbing slice of the south, more so than his photos really show. There's a black and white still of Meathead on display too: he's slouched on a folding chair and appears to be either praying or sleeping on his folded hands. He looks peaceful but ... well it's hard not to project after watching his scatalogical speaking in tongues.

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