It’s hard to justify to nonbelievers what makes William Eggleston’s work so resonant.  In fact, there were plenty of people who hated it 1976, when color photography was still frowned upon, and I’m sure there are plenty who hate it now.  Notwithstanding his popularity in the world of galleries, and the art press, his work is paradoxically democratic and elitist.  He dares you to say, “I don’t see what the big deal is, I could do that.”   He is everything that people outside the art community hate about art, and the subjective appreciation of one over the other.  A good example of this is Eggleston’s picture of the inside of a freezer or the underside of a bed, or the fact that he doesn’t give audacious titles to his images.  He just does what he does and dares the world to deny it.  

While you can look at a photo like Untitled 1965, (the one with the kid pushing grocery carts), and figure out what makes you feel warm and fuzzy about it (the golden tinged nostalgia of 50’s era America, in brilliant color), there are plenty of others that to most people seem like you handed a disposable camera to some kid and sent them out in the neighborhood to take pictures of things they found interesting.  Often times, body parts are cut off at the margins, and mundane objects like a haphazardly placed axe, or Christmas lights strung around a pole in a parking lot are the chosen subject matter.  Everything you are taught to do, is thrown out the window, and composition and color take prominence over all else.  I can see why the critics were almost unanimous in their scorn for his first MoMA exhibition, and the only thing that surprises me, is that he somehow survived the battering and kept going.  It’s a commentary on the absurdity of the human condition that in the early days, he was battling the very same people who are his greatest champions today.

I won’t tell you that you should care about William Eggleston, you either like his work or you don’t.  But if you are a photographer, I can tell you that it’s worth your time to find out.  As a resident of the South, it’s easy for me to identify with the familiar landscapes that are represented in Egg’s photos, and his embrace of the mundane.  Eggleston is also an interesting character, whose life seems to be a work of art all it’s own.  For further study, his film “Stranded in Canton” is a weird, wild ride that gives us a glimpse of his world and the underground characters that were part of his social circle.   

Eggleston blazed a path and revolutionized modern photography by embracing and uplifting the mundane and everyday, and I still haven’t seen anybody who does what he does any better.  I think of him as being out of the same mold as a William Burroughs or Henry Miller.  A man ahead of his time who is willing to bear the scrutiny of critics in pursuit of his own unique passion.  He stands out as a fearless, debauched weirdo from Mississippi, shooting roll after roll in empty parking lots and dusty second hand stores.  Now that he’s written about and praised so profusely, he probably still doesn’t give a damn whether he is considered an artist, and I’m sure he doesn’t spend too much time thinking about each and every frame he’s shot over his decades long career.  My guess is that he probably would have done the same had he never been recognized, and that is something that is truly admirable, whether you like his pictures or not.  


Larry's Legacy

I recently listened to the episode of WTF where Marc interviewed Larry Clark.  For those who know little about photography, Larry Clark wouldn’t ring any bells, but for those who do, he looms pretty large in the modern lexicon.  I had always assumed that Clark had started shooting in the 70’s.  After all, it makes sense when you look at the material in his seminal work, “Tulsa”.  It is a stark, brutal and honest work that peeked behind the curtain at an America that few people knew existed, except for those that lived it.  The images were shot by Larry in Tulsa, where he worked assisting his mom in door to door baby portraiture.  In the Maron podcast, he revealed that he had shot most of the material while he hung out doing drugs with his friends after work.  He always had his camera with him and so nobody thought much of him snapping pictures as they lay around with syringes sticking from their arms, or engaged in casual sexual contact.


Among the surprising elements for me, was that he said that he began shooting in 1959.  To put that in perspective, Eisenhower was President, the Vietnam War had not begun, and people still weren’t sure if rock and roll was going to be around in five years.  

While it’s true that literature had begun to peel back the layers that shielded “decent society” from the underlying vice that was a fixture of the American experience, there is something about seeing it displayed in the stark contrast of Kodak Tri-X 400 that makes it much more real than the accounts of some Cambridge educated beatnik from Manhattan.


Yes, there has been since it’s inception, an element of photography that had documented the seedier side of life, but what Clark captured was different.  It was everything that the powers that be railed against in the halls of Congress and from the pulpit, laid bare for all to see.  It showed the poverty and desperation of small town life that often leads to experimentation with drugs and laissez faire sexuality that has been the blight of the heartland for generations.  It is a noir-tinged work of photojournalism that was instantly recognized as an enduring statement on fringe culture, and served as a vehicle for Clark himself to escape the stifling suffocation of rural Oklahoma, and pursue a career in film and the arts.


Unsurprisingly, Clark himself was unsure of it’s value and had no real intention of releasing the work until he spent time outside of his hometown and upon viewing the work of Truffaut and other avant garde filmmakers, he found out there was a market for the outsider point of view.

Following the success of “Tulsa”, Clark released the seminal work, “Teenage Lust” and continued for the decades that followed to document those who live on the margins of society, as well as releasing a slew of films that are highly regarded and have had a lasting impact.


Larry said that he had never intended to be a photographer, and that he only took it up as a function of it being one of the few tools he had on hand.  When asked to give lectures to emerging photographers, his advice is for them to stop wasting time studying, and spend more time out documenting your reality.  What sticks with me about this advice, and his work, is it’s honesty.  It is something that is often overlooked in photography today.  We are inundated with images that portray life, but rarely are we shown the truth.  Oversaturated sunsets and sickly sweet photos of babies and pets dominate social media platforms, and we all strive to appear as if we are thriving and happy, and even Larry Clark’s current work often appears as a stylized version of his original work.  As photographers, we take our share of pretty pictures (it would be hard to be employed in the field if we didn't), but often the most powerful images are the ones that show a different side of life, and usually it is not very pretty.

Dream City

It takes the better part of a day to cross the mountains from the sweltering heat of Guayaquil to the cool, damp air of Cuenca in a shuttle bus. In the fashion of a true Guayaquileño, the driver of our van goes slow when he should go fast, fast when he should go slow, and occasionally steers with his knee while he texts on a vintage Blackberry.  The blind curves of the winding road are seen as an opportunity to challenge slower traffic as well as the fortitude of his human cargo.  Maybe he suspects that I find his driving skills to be less than professional, because I see him looking at me in the rear view mirror with disdain.  Perhaps it is some motive that I cannot divine, but whatever has drawn his ire, I try to deflect it, hoping that he will concentrate more closely on the road ahead.  The view from the window is enchanting, as we cross through various climate zones and the culture of the coast, with it’s striving hustle, gives way to the mountain peoples measured calm.  As I fight the nausea and the urge to expel this morning’s modest breakfast, I keep being drawn into vistas that pass, as elusive as butterflies.  From the dense forests of the foothills, to the foggy peaks of the Andes, I want to shout at the driver to stop and indulge my desire to walk this land at a pace it’s grandeur demands.  The hillsides, thick with foliage, and lakes that mirror the sky above, inspire vivid daydreaming of wild adventures and exploration.   

Having spent much of my life in Central Arkansas, with it’s low hills and meandering waterways, I am always awed by geologically volatile places.  The Andes are young, and like youth everywhere, they tend to be loud and audacious.  Every so often, one of the volcanoes that run down the rugged spine of the Ecuadorean high country spews red hot magma into the atmosphere and the old gods of the earth demand their tribute.  In return they allow us to see the inner workings of a planet that is daily taken for granted as we look ever inward and the small miracles that are offered to us go unobserved.  I wonder if the other passengers in the van think of this country in the way that I do, or if it is just the space that separates two places; a daily or weekly commute to be endured.  With a glance at faces lit by tiny screens, I know the answer, but I deny it the light of day so as not to spoil my fantasies.  Fortunately my wife, who is accompanying me, has not seen enough of the mountains to be immune to their charms, even though this is her native country. 

By early afternoon, we make it to the suburbs of Cuenca, with it’s new constructions and curious abstract architecture.  Even the homicidal driver has not dampened my mood although he has very nearly killed several children and hunchbacked elderly women.  As the streets narrow towards the center of town, he seems to speed up and pedestrians, accustomed to the mania, move at the precise moment necessary to avoid being casualties.  When we arrive at the terminal, our chauffeur is the first to exit as if fleeing the scene of a crime.  We extract our gear and stretch compacted limbs as a cold, hard rain begins to fall.  By the time we hail a taxi, to make the final leg of our journey, we are soaked to the bone.  

We drop our backpacks off at the hotel, a converted colonial residence with rooms that open onto the courtyard, and hit the cobblestone.  One of the first things that you will notice about Cuenca is the abundance of bakeries, each and every one beckoning you to stop and have a bite to eat, and wash it down with the ubiquitous Nescafe.  We gave in to our cravings and grabbed a croissant as we began our tour of the city, heading over to the flower market in front of the San Marino Cathedral.  Naturally, it is a good place to take a few pictures and marvel at the variety of colorful blooms on display.  To our surprise, there was a street fair to showcase the skill of the local pâtissier’s that rivaled the palette of the floral vendors.  We indulged ourselves, yet again, and set out to see as much of Cuenca as we could, all the while keeping in mind we had only 48 hours to pack it in. 

Justin Booth, Outlaw Poet

Justin Booth is a man whose history is written all over his face, and as he is quick to point out, “I photograph well.”  He is full of an energy that makes him hard to capture, but in the spaces in- between, there is truth to his claim.  I had him in mind for a project, that turned in to something else, as my photo projects often do.  We met at Dizzy’s, where he spends his afternoons sipping whiskey and making conversation.  I watch him and listen, occasionally interrupting, asking him to pause while I take a shot.  He tells me about his recent trip to New York, where he read in a bar in the Bowery, and of his upcoming book release.  We talk about fighting, prison, and life on the street, and how all of those things make good poetry.  It is easy to admire a man who started out by selling books, photocopied himself, on a downtown corner, and who still goes back to visit the homeless camps where he once resided.  Justin writes poems that pair well with a strong drink, and read easy in a noisy beer hall.

His book, “The Singer, The Lesbian, and and the One With the Feet: 69 Bipolar Love Poems”, is being released through Cowboy Buddha Publishing, and will drop on Feb. 15.  Do yourself a favor and head over to the back room of Vino’s to support local writer’s.