William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008

William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008

January 14, 2020 0 By Peter Engel


Hello, I’m William Eggleston. ALMEREYDA: I just happened to flip to this at the very beginning. It’s a very dramatic picture; it’s got a certain amount of fame to it. It’s from The Guide. Can you talk about what the circumstances were when you took this? EGGLESTON: Well, this man is dead. He was murdered. He was my great, close friend and not a typical type. For instance, I don’t know why, but this was his bedroom, which he painted obviously with red paint and no other color but the black spray. And I would visit him frequently. I suppose it’s probably late at night, probably sleepy, about to be bedtime. We were talking obviously about something; he’s scratching his head. Very smart and always listened to anything he had to say. So, I miss him very much. ALMEREYDA: What was his name? EGGLESTON: Tom Boring. He was a dentist. ALMEREYDA: Maybe we can do a big flashback and go to some of this black-and-white work, which is so different and distinctive. What year is this? How old were you when you took this? EGGLESTON: This is ’61, which means when I was about college age. It should say, “Parchman Prison,” but it says instead, “Parchman Plantation,” which it was, where they used prison labor to farm– cotton, actually. And that land, my family land, had a common border, no fence. Just one row of cotton stopped and another began. Might say done, worked by slave labor. Mostly black. That’s in another county, where I just was driving by. This was in front of the commissary, where they would gather for lunch break. And this was either one of only about two frames, probably. ALMEREYDA: What’s going on here? EGGLESTON: That is just an ordinary, small market. The kind of place that evolved into what’s now called a 7-Eleven. But this was just a very modest grocery store. And I don’t know why I was in there. Happened to be. ALMEREYDA: Maybe you can talk for a minute about the decision to switch into color. How did that hit you? . EGGLESTON: It never was a conscious thing. I had wanted to see a lot of things in color because the world is in color. I was affected by it all the time, particularly certain times of the day when the sun made things really starkly stand out. The one of the boy with the grocery cart, I point it out simply because that was my first successful negative. Tallahatchie is a county in which the small town, Sumner, is. And that was my uncle, the man who married my mother’s sister. And the black man was one of the servants that sort of raised me. And they are both gone from the Earth now, but I was quite close to each one. ALMEREYDA: I think this picture’s been written about a bit, about the way they echo each other. Can you talk about that a minute? EGGLESTON: Well, someone pointed out that when two people live in the same house together for a certain long period of time, enough years, they start to, not consciously, but almost imitate each other. Like in the way they’re standing. ALMEREYDA: Well, this picture is so famous; you might as well say something about it. EGGLESTON: I was searching around a pretty barren, suburban neighborhood in Memphis for no particular reason, in a place I’m not familiar with. And this is a row of typical houses. And this was just sitting in the street near the curb. And I was sitting on the curb, looking at it. I was just a few feet away, ten maybe at the most. And rested the camera on the curb, I think using something like my wallet to cushion it. ALMEREYDA: Do you remember why you chose such a low angle? EGGLESTON: Because I think I had sense enough to know that it was not so interesting to stand at normal standing height and look down at this thing. So I got down level with it. .