Alex Chilton died suddenly this week, which comes as quite a blow to the music community. I’m not an authority on Chilton’s work and couldn’t add anything to the memorial discussion that would come close to matching, for instance, Chuck Prophet’s post about why Chilton matters. It’s Chilton’s connection to photographer William Eggleston that makes me want to write about him on a design firm’s blog this week. Eggleston is probably one of the best photographers alive, and definitely the most important to me personally, because his work attracted me to art form. It all started with Big Star’s Radio City album cover:
Big Star’s Radio City, featuring Red Ceiling by William Eggleston
The photograph, Red Ceiling, is a great example of the kind of minimalism Dana wrote about earlier. For fans of his work, this is quintessential Eggleston: simple forms in saturated colors culled from a banal subject, managing to add up to a highly evocative image. It feels like snapshot, and it feels like fine art. It suggests sordid, sleazy storylines but also loneliness. It references a specific context but feels placeless. The shot piqued my curiosity; I started looking at samples of Eggleston’s work online and eventually bought William Eggleston’s Guide, and loved it. That led to collecting lots of other photography books, and eventually to taking some classes and picking up a photography obsession. For one of my classes, I ended up writing a whole research paper on this single image…and couple years later I was hanging my first ever art show on the (incidentally) red walls of a barroom in West Seattle.
Maybe there are different ways of measuring artistic success. Eggleston has definitely achieved respect and renown in his time, but he’s still selling photographs for record covers. Here’s Spoons latest release:
Spoon’s Transference, featuring a crop of Sumner, Mississipi, 1970 by William Eggleston
Chuck Prophet has it right that Chilton achieved much of his success in vein of the “making kids buy guitars”. Seems like Eggleston’s ability to draw high art from the everyday, to “make it look easy”, makes him the kind of photographer who makes kids buy cameras. It’s no wonder Chilton and Eggleston had a connection.