By Harrison Haynes
William Eggleston: Democratic Camera
Photographs and Video
On view November 7, 2008 – January 25, 2009
Seeing the Eggleston show at the Whitney last month was a bit like staring into the sun. His influence on me as an artist has been so profound that standing in front of the work in person* instilled a kind of temporary blindness. I ended up scrutinizing the framing and installation of the works more than the color, composition or content and came away feeling a bit let down. It all felt a little too dense, like walking through the physical manifestation of an encyclopedia entry: “Eggleston, William. Photographer.”
I think Eggleston’s images are stronger in spare arrangements where each scene is a discovery for the viewer. His 2001 self-titled show at Cheim & Read was my first experience seeing his work outside of a book and the generous spacing and white frames allowed a slow storyboard to emerge as you wandered through the gallery. The Whitney’s show is a more maze-like arrangement, with short, broken planes that attempt to group his oeuvre into series. The result is more scatterbrained than cataloged, but maybe that’s what Eggleston is like as a person.
One fresh moment in the show was the inclusion of table vitrines displaying the LP covers that have featured Eggleston’s images: The iconic “Radio City” by Big Star and Alex Chilton’s solo LP, “Like Flies on Sherbert.” Oddly, it was these mass-produced objects that really ended up providing the most compelling sense of the artist’s history for me.
The video work, displayed on low seated monitors situated in a sort of campfire arrangement, offered a revealing glimpse of Eggleston the man as it chronicled the rants of drunk associates. It felt similar to the experience of reading David Berman’s (an apparent Eggleston admirer) confessional interview in which he chronicled the depths of his chemical addictions: an old fashioned case of too much information.
*The phrase, ‘in person’, is a little odd to use when referring to editioned or reproduce-able media. Perhaps the shortcomings of the framing (wrinkled prints, bowing mats) could actually be seen here as authenticators.