Thursday, February 16, 2017

Classroom Connections: Ordinary is the New Extraordinary: A Review of “The Beautiful Mysterious: The Extraordinary Gaze of William Eggelston”

The following piece came to us from Cynthia Joyce's Journalism and Cultural Criticism class and was originally published to The following is re-published with permission from the author, Madison Heil, a senior, Broadcast Journalism major from Mandeville, Louisiana. 

The Beautiful Mysterious: The Extraordinary Gaze of William Eggleston is on display until this Saturday, February 18th. 

Ordinary is the New Extraordinary: A Review of “The Beautiful Mysterious: The Extraordinary Gaze of William Eggelston”

“Look at an Eggleston photograph once and you are forever altered. Suddenly, you are in it. It is in you.”-Megan Abbott, Guest Curator, author
That is just one of the four large quotes printed on the wall as you begin the tour of William Eggleston’s exhibit at the University of Mississippi Museum. The words provide instant insight into what you are about to see, ordinary photographs that tell the extraordinary stories of the lives we live.
A native of the Mississippi Delta, William Eggleston is known for photographing scenes of the South, but doesn’t consider himself a “southern” photographer. His work tells a simple narrative about the way of life. In the UM Museum’s exhibit “The Beautiful Mysterious: The Extraordinary Gaze of William Eggleston,” 36 photographs from his collection come alive before your eyes as you get a glimpse into the life behind Eggleston’s lens.
The exhibit is displayed across two rooms; the walls are a dark purple and the lighting is low. All you’re surrounded by are the white-framed photographs. Black and white — how Eggleston’s photographs started out before he revolutionized the modern art world with his color photography. The colored photographs seem to jump out at you, and two caught my eye.
The first — actually not colored but for good reason — is Untitled from 1964–65. The setting is a fast food restaurant (Taco Bell I believe) with the focus on one man sitting at the counter. There are three others in the background, all frozen in time. My first though was, “What is he eating,” and then I looked at the man closer and wondered, “What is he thinking?” The man holds a dazed-like, gloomy expression on his face just going through the motions. And the black and white print matches the mood of the photograph; in color it wouldn’t feel the same.
Untitled, 1964–65, William Eggleston, University of Mississippi Museum and Historic Houses
At first glance, you might not see the point in a photograph like this — or any of his photos for that matter — but that’s just it. As a democratic photographer, Eggleston saw everything, everyone, every place as an opportunity for a photograph, in the same light. This photo tells a story, gives a glimpse, into everyday life — not the glamorous moments most might expect to see, but the ordinary ones, and that’s okay. I feel as if through these frozen snapshots, you learn that the lives we live are extraordinary, not matter how dull, boring, or black and white they may seem.
The second photograph, in contrast is colored. It is a piece from the “Election Eve” project out of Plains, Georgia in 1976 also Untitled. He took the photographs for the project on his way to Plains, GA from Mississippi and while he was there on the eve of the 1976 Presidential Election. A lot of the photos from this project are scenery, no people, like the ruins of the burned shack. Life exists outside of people and the photos show in this project show it. The one I liked is a still abandoned pile of bricks and debris from what used to stand there, and election or not it wasn’t going anywhere. Aside from the busy happenings involving a new president getting elected, life was still happening.
Untitled, 1977, William Eggleston, University of Mississippi Museum and Historic Houses
The photograph doesn’t say much about the election itself, as one might assume from the title of the project. Rather, it shows what was in existence at the time. You can see the meaningful use of color in this print as the red brick stands loudly against the green grass and patches of dirt. If black and white it would all blend together. For me, the color shows a hint of life in what otherwise would seem like dull, boring nothing. Color gives these photos the life Eggleston was trying to capture.
In all of the 36 photographs displayed, ordinary becomes the new extraordinary. All of the memories frozen in time show the moments of life, anyone’s life, American life; and whether the moments are of sorrow, trouble, abandonment or laughter, they all tell their own unique story, ones that we all experience.
The exhibit will be at the UM Museum until February 18th, 2017. If you’re days seem fairly ordinary to you, stop by to gaze at the extraordinary.

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