Friday, 10 May 2013

More banality

One of the good things about the internet is the way you bump into interesting stuff when you are looking for something else. So it was I found the following two films about William Eggleston. What I find even more interesting than reading or listening to what people have to say about how they go about making pictures is watching them actually doing it. It's far more revealing in some ways. Seeing Eggleston at work it becomes clear that his (to some) apparently casual snapshots are carefully observed and considered.

While I like to know and understand how people operate and think I'm less interested in their private lives - although that certainly has an effect on their outlook, and in the case of  Eggleston (and, coincidentally, his early influence Cartier-Bresson) family wealth seems to have enabled him to do nothing but pursue his art without having to concern himself with the realities of earning a living. I prefer to judge the work on its own merits without any prejudice against an artist's personality. Most successful artists get where they are by being obsessive, driven and often ruthless. Only those who are discovered late in life, or later still, ever seem to be well rounded human beings who were kind to animals and small children!

I watched the two films one after the other and found the first (shorter) one to be more watchable. That might have been because the second covered similar ground, but also because it is less tightly edited. This being the internet it's easy to skip the boring bits though!

The influence of Cartier-Bresson on Eggleston's early black and white photos was plain. It also carries over into the colour photographs if you look closely. Something that struck me while watching both films is that work which is 'highly influential' as Eggleston's first MoMA show was often comes early in the artist's career. Most of the best known and lauded Eggleston photographs are from that show - just as the most well known (or reproduced)  pictures of Martin Parr are from The Last Resort. It's a bit like bands often recording their best albums early on.

I'm sure this is because early in a career everything is new and being explored with surprise and delight as a style (conscious or not) is being sought which eventually gels in something different to the mainstream. From then on there are two courses which can be followed: endless repetition of a successful formula or; a continual reinvention of style. Few manage to pull off the latter with continued success. For me both Eggleston and Parr have taken the easier route - albeit with sustained clarity of vision. Parr does come close to self parody at times, but being Parr that could well be intentional!

Undoubtedlygreat as the best of Eggleston's pictures are, they increasingly (as do Cartier-Bresson's) leave me wanting more. There is something a little too clever about them. A lack of warmth. For all the cynicism that is levelled at Parr's photography I find it more engaging, less cold. This is something that exercises my thoughts as I feel my own photographs all too often have a formality and stiffness to them.

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