William Eggleston: Los Alamos
William Eggleston has imagined that he shoots photographs from the vantage point of an insect, a baby, or a rifle—anything to avoid feeling as if he were doing it with his own eyes or, God forbid, taking a picture that looks like one he might have already taken:
Humans make pictures which tend to be about five feet above the ground looking out horizontally. I like very fast flying insects moving all over and I wonder what their view is from moment to moment. I have made a few pictures which show that physical viewpoint.
In the fall of 1976, shortly before Jimmy Carter was elected president, Eggleston drove to Plains, Georgia, on assignment for Rolling Stone. He had met Andy Warhol and, through him, Warhol’s superstar Viva, with whom he lived for a time at the Chelsea Hotel and who remains a close friend. She was with him when he drove from Mississippi to Plains shooting what became his book Election Eve (1977, recently reissued). According to Mark Holborn, in his 1991 preface to William Eggleston, Ancient and Modern, the most searching and complete analysis of Eggleston’s work, it was on this trip that he stopped using the camera’s viewfinder and began to shoot as if he were firing a shotgun. In Eggleston’s own words:
It makes you much freer, so you can hold the camera up in the air as if you were ten feet tall. You end up looking more intensely as you walk around. When it is time for you to make the photograph, it’s all ready for you. Unlike a rifle, where you carefully aim following a dot or a scope, with a shotgun it’s done with feel. You don’t look down the barrel and line things up. With a fluid movement your body follows a moving target and the gun keeps moving after the shot with what is known as “follow through.” That becomes subconscious. Good shooting instructors will encourage you to follow through. It’s the opposite of the rational method. When I got the prints from this method, they looked like shotgun pictures.
In his photographs Eggleston had already been putting into practice “the idea that one could,” as he said in his ten-volume The Democratic Forest, “treat the Lincoln Memorial and an anonymous street corner with the same amount of care, and that the resulting two pictures would be equal.” Between 1965 and 1974 he and the curator Walter Hopps, once described in The New York Times as “the most gifted museum man on the West Coast…possibly in the nation,” drove together from Memphis, Tennessee, to Santa Monica, California, with Eggleston taking photographs and Hopps at the wheel. Sometimes they were joined by Dennis Hopper. Hopps recalled Eggleston saying, as they drove past the Los Alamos…
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