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Friday, 23 April 2010


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I was in London ten days ago and took in the Irving Penn exhibition at the NPG. Great show, fab to see this stuff "in the flesh" so to speak , but the lighting was just too dim to work for me, and the room was hot, stuffy and crowded.
Frankly on reflection I'm beginning to think it s better to look at a really well produced book in good light, there's noone in your way, no shoulders to peer over and no irritating comments to overhear either...........

This made me smile. Thanks, Mike.

I saw the show during a recent visit to Chicago, and it was the first time I'd seen Eggleston's work in person. I was floored by many aspects of those images as well as the clarity of his vision, but especially in-person by the intensity of the color in those dye transfer prints. Oh my gosh.

And to top it off, almost all the lights were bare halogens that casts all sorts of glare on the pictures.

In that glorious Modern Wing, no less. Where they have these glorious galleries lit by natural light modulated by varying layers of light blocking screens.

But those are some glorious pictures on display.

My only trip to Chicago was specifically to see an Edward Weston show at AIC. The illumination was so low that they should have issued visitors seeing-eye dogs, and put the captions in Braile.
(What's wrong with these people?)
I won't be back.

Mike - I am glad to hear that you at one point found Eggleston to be challenging. On your recommendation I bought "William Egglestons's Guide". For the life of me I can't figure out yet, where your recommendation came from. I still pick up the book to look at it to see what I might have missed. I have to admit I do like the picture of the tricycle on the cover, that one has always grabbed me. The rest of the pictures in the book, well not yet. I will keep working at it.
I do like the picture at the top of the post, that one is great.

Mike I just scheduled a business trip to Chicago and allowed enough time to sneak over to the Art institute just to see the exhibit. Looking forward to the trip. Eric

Dear Mike,

I had been wondering why the site was so, um, moribund yesterday, but I can't think of any better reason for playing hooky from The Big TOP. You go, boy!

I truly wish I could've seen the exhibit with you and Ken. I don't "get" Eggleston. I didn't the first time I saw him 35 years ago, and I keep looking, and it still doesn't connect for me. Yes, I know that any given artist is not going to be appreciated by everybody; I've made that point off enough myself. I would just like to understand why I don't like his work better, and I'd love to get a better understanding of what other people see in it. You and Ken are eloquent enough on the subject of photographic aesthetics that I might very well come away from it with an honest to God clue (in which I am currently sorely lacking).

I've exhausted all my hypotheses. I like casual color. I like the snapshot aesthetic. I like the American southern photography. I like modernism. I like postmodernism. I like classical. I don't think it's a genre thing or a style thing; apparently it's an "Eggleston" thing. How unenlightening.

It's not the only time that Szarkovski and I have disagreed in matters of taste, but it was probably the first and is still one of the most notable. It's why, while I consider him hugely influential on the field (how could I not?!), I don't even consider him a minor deity in the critical pantheon. I'll always look at what he's got to show me, and half the time I'll come away from it wondering why.

I'm OK with not liking something. That's just about me, and it's of no great import. It bugs the hell out of me when I don't know WHY I don't like something, especially in an arena where I should be able to claim some insight.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

"(What's wrong with these people?)
I won't be back.
Posted by: Bill Mitchell"

Works on paper are often protected for longevity by keeping light levels low. Sometimes, the museum is following prescribed guidelines.

I mentioned in another comment a while back that I enjoy booking meetings with museum curators to view photographs from their collections, usually focusing on one or two photographers. This offers the best viewing experience...no crowds, good lighting, up close viewing and commentary from knowledgeable folks.

I recommend that others take this opportunity. You'd be surprised how delighted curators are to find interested viewers on slow days. But, this approach doesn't work for big shows...at least not without special connections.

Glad to hear you made it down to take in the exhibit. I thought the new ride might provide an incentive to make the trip. Based on your description, Ken must've been the perfect docent, wish I could've been there, especially since I am still in the "finding him challenging" phase. I'm planning a return visit soon. There is so much to take in that multiple visits are in order. I love the choice of images you used for the article.
As to the lighting - it was great on opening day - I'll be curious to see it now.

Ctein, maybe we should start a sign-up sheet for that request.

I'm much newer than Ctein at this Photography thing, but I've never liked Eggleston either. It annoys me that so many people I respect say he's great, and I just don't see why. This is the main reason that I'm going to the exhibit; maybe seeing prints in person I'll have some sort of epiphany and all will be clear.

Or maybe Mike and Ken can conjure up a post explaining what Ctein and I are missing, that we may fall from our mules on our way back from Chicago and become enlightened.

I'll have to wait until 2011 to see it in Los Angeles - but I will be there! Can't wait. He's one of my favorite color photographers.


I know what you mean. I feel exactly the same about Ansel Adams.

I have always imagined Eggleston as William Burroughs with a camera. That patrician, slightly nauseated gazing on the astonishing but unintelligible revelations that punctuate mundane reality: "This must mean something... But what? These people, they fascinate me... But why?"

There's often a sense of someone hoping to come to like the world more, if only they concentrate hard enough on its redemptive strangeness. But Eggleston is not aggressive or evangelical -- he rarely isolates small details in the frame, for example, but gives lots of messy, "uncomposed" context.

It also feels like very lonely work. I sometimes hear Leonard Cohen's song "Suzanne", and imagine WE humming it to himself, though for all I know he detests everything except Gesualdo (which would also seem appropriate).

But that is probably about as helpful as saying Eggleston always reminds me of the number 47...


Ctein, I'm with you. Wish someone could explain to me just what it is with Eggleston that they appreciate.

Paul Mc Cann

My wife and I went to the Egggleston show in Chicago. Frankly, not much resonated with us. We both found the concurrent "In the Vernacular" show much more rewarding, probably for its deeper sense of humanity. And that South Asian exhibit in the nearby room of the old wing was simply sublime.

Eggleston's images are more like Harry Dean Stanton acting in a Sam Shepard play than photographs.

I, too, was fortunate enough to see the show in the company of Ken Tanaka. I found the Eggleston show to be absolutely enthralling. By the time I left the galleries, I felt a sense of thrilling exhilaration. And viewing the show with Ken added a layer of richness and insight I would otherwise have missed.

I will shamelessly admit to loving Eggleston's work, and seeing the dye transfer prints in all their glory was a terrific experience.

It's comforting to read that other people don't "get" Eggleston. That almost describes me. I semi-get Eggleston? I have his Guide, and I have viewed his images on the site maintained by his trust - and I love his work. I just can't figure out why. I think his use of color has something to do with it, but I think there's something more. I have seen other pictures with similar palettes; I've seen other pictures with similar subjects; Something about Eggleston's work specifically rises above the rest. It has a presence beyond the composition, beyond the light, beyond the colors, and beyond the subjects. This is a perfect example of je ne sais quois - and I'll happily keep looking!

I envy your visit of the collection!

Agree about gallery lighting, and especially about the penn exhibition that i also saw. Not just low level, uneven and poor colour too. great work nearly ruined by crappy installation. With modern technolgy, you'd have tought this would be sorted.
back on the topic - wish I could get to see this exhibit and I wish I had a gallery-going companion with which to share my various exhibit visits.

I stumbled into the exhibit while in Chicago on business. Well worth seeing. My personal experience with almost all photographers is that some of their works move me, and some just don't. Eggleston is no different.

For those planning a visit to the Art Institute, I also recommend spending time up with the impressionist works. They have a great collection with some famous stuff.

Certain Eggleston photos I've seen (only in books) I like, but overall his style in choice of and approach to subject is so close to what I do with a camera when just goofing around that it's hard for me to see his stuff as anything more than what I'd do if I #1): liked photography, and #2):never had to work a day in my life.

It was a surprise to learn after returning home that I was at the exhibition on the same day as you, on my first visit to Chicago in nearly 20 years. I wish I could have tagged along to talk about what you saw in these pictures--for me they simply didn't resonate. The one that struck me as most interesting was the one you included in your post. Yes, the lighting didn't help. Nonetheless, it was so much fun to visit the Art Institute again after so many years. What a spectacularly fun place.

"I don't "get" Eggleston. I didn't the first time I saw him 35 years ago, and I keep looking, and it still doesn't connect for me."

Thank you, thank you, Ctein. I thought I must be the only one.

No, you are not alone. There are two of you ;}

Dear Mike Cannone,

Indeed, I think anyone looking to similarity with me as reassurance that there's nothing wrong with them needs to rethink their value system [g].

Anyone who imagines they are 'alone' in disliking some artist simply needs a reality check. Here--

Every artists is disliked by a substantial fraction of the (potential) audience for that medium. I might even argue that every artist is disliked by a MAJORITY. It's trivially obvious in the case of music -- I'm not sure there's a majority of music listeners who even like any single genre. I could make strong case for it for painters, outside of a handful of individual works that are so famous and inculcated into the culture that hardly anyone can view them 'objectively' any longer. I'm on thinner ice when it comes to photographers, but I'd still take the bet.

There's a kind of cultural myth that if an artist is collectively deemed great, or even good, that means that "everyone" likes their work. Not true, never been close to true.

Me not liking Eggleston is a dog-bites-man story. Me not understanding why is more interesting... by a bit. But the simple liking/not liking part? Big yawn.

pax / Ctein


Very interesting comment I feel exactly the same…but about Robert Adams (especially the 1980-2010 period). I just don't "get" Robert Adams. It's a mystery for me why some like his work. A total mystery.



"I'm not sure there's a majority of music listeners who even like any single genre."

Everybody loves jazz.


Everybody loves jazz.

You forgot the winky face, Mike.

"Everybody loves Jazz."

Mike, not long after I got my car, my wife wanted to drive it to the store, so she headed out to the driveway and, I assumed, left. I happened to look out the window a few minutes later, and she was still out there.

Birth of the Cool gets pretty heavy rotation in my playlist, and when I stepped outside to see why she hadn't left I could see her flailing about, trying to find the power switch on the stereo. I could hear her repeartedly shouting, "I hate jazz!" while Miles and the gang rolled on.

I think "getting" Eggleston is a temperament thing, and could be a matter of your personal expression. As a guy from the South with an odd eye, even if it leans a little more toward geometry, I feel a kind of artistic kinship and appreciation for what he does and how hard it is to achieve that sort of clarity.

I'm looking forward to seeing his show in Chicago, almost as much as I'm looking forward to ours.

I don't like jazz.

I love Coltraine, Monk, and some bits of some others, but as a genre ...

Well, it's nice to be taken seriously sometimes, I suppose, but my previous comment on Mr Eggleston was intended to be light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek . . . etc

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