The UM Museum has just a few weeks left of the special exhibit, The Beautiful Mysterious: The Extraordinary Gaze of William Eggleston, which closes February 18, 2017. In honor of this exhibit and in light of the recent passing of renowned photographer William Christenberry, our Special Guest Blogger Amanda Malloy explores these two photographic icons in today's blog post.
Amanda Malloy is a recent graduate of the Southern Studies Master of Arts program at the University of Mississippi. Her Master's thesis was on William Eggleston. She currently works at Rowan Oak, the historic home of William Faulkner, and is the Visual Arts Editor for Mississippi Folklife, an online publication of the Mississippi Arts Commission.
In an interview with William Ferris in 1976, William Eggleston said, “My work is about the New South.” Largely photographing in Memphis, Tennessee where he resides, Eggleston’s images capture a changing and developing region, a South of strip malls, fast food chains, and advertising. Eggleston goes on to say, “There are a lot of new buildings down there and new roads. There are not many new people down there. A lot of them have left. [...] There is still a lot of work to be done in the South, and I have just scratched the surface.” Of course, the South of the past exists in Eggleston’s photographs, where there is decay and old family homes and maybe even a twinge of nostalgia, but Eggleston’s images don’t dwell on the past. One of the things that makes Eggleston’s photographs so remarkable is that he can take these seemingly mundane landmarks of new development like parking lots and billboards and make them mysterious and intriguing, imbuing them with a sense of emotion.
|Eggleston, Willliam. Untitled, 1977. Taken as part of the "Election Eve" series.|
William Christenberry, who was a close friend of William Eggleston and who sadly passed away November of 2016, also spoke to William Ferris about the subject of his photographs which largely capture rural architecture in Hale County, Alabama where Christenberry grew up: “I am attracted to things that are decaying, that are rapidly vanishing from the landscape in the South. [...] I find old things more beautiful than the new, and I go back to them every year until sooner or later they are gone. They have blown away, burned, fallen down, or just simply disappeared.” Christenberry’s images often seem haunted and far removed from human presence. His photographs act as portraits of the buildings he portrays, as if the structures are personified with their own feelings and personalities.
These two artists, in terms of method, could not be more different. Eggleston photographs ‘democratically’ as he once put it, meaning that not only does he give equal attention to all subjects, both grand and mundane, but he also rarely captures the same subject more than once. Christenberry, on the other hand, photographed his subjects repeatedly, returning to the same buildings and viewpoints over many years. The different methods in which the two artists photograph influence their individual aesthetics. Eggleston’s photographs portray private and fleeting moments in time, while Christenberry’s images largely convey a more methodical interpretation of his subjects, as if he is deeply familiar with every brick and slab of wood.
Christenberry, William. Window, Mills Hill, Hale County, Alabama, 1973
William Eggleston and William Christenberry are two very different and distinct artists, yet similarities are apparent in their photographic interpretations of rural architecture. Both are skilled at photographing rural buildings with a head-on approach, capturing the overall feeling of a structure while placing it within the landscape. Yet both also tend to play around with angles, depth, and line, focusing on specific architectural and decorative attributes. By experimenting with depth and placement, the photographers give meaning to these structures. They are not merely relics of a long-gone past, or quaint landmarks of a rural South. The rural structures in Eggleston and Christenberry’s photographs show in their wear not only past interactions, but continued change and deterioration in a landscape that is also changing. Eggleston and Christenberry’s photographs prove that these structures are still alive, and still have stories to tell.
Events Associated with The Beautiful Mysterious: The Extraordinary Gaze of William Eggleston
Tomorrow, February 10, at the Museum, at 12pm, Anne Tucker, Curator Emerita of the Houston Museum of Fine Art will be giving a brown bag lecture entitled William Eggleston, Not Southern? (Date changed due to weather delay).
On February 14th, at the Lyric Theatre, from 6-8pm, Oxford Film Festival kicks off with a screening of William Eggleston in the Real World. Director Michael Almereyda will participate in a post-screening Q&A.
The Beautiful Mysterious: The Extraordinary Gaze of William Eggleston is on display through February 18th.