Published by Landscape Architecture and Urbanism at University of Greenwich, London

Photographic dreams

Review of William Eggleston´s work. Particularly the book: William Eggleston’s Guide. Second edition 2002 The Museum of Modern Art, New York by John Szarkowski and William Eggleston.

William Eggleston is considered a pioneer in modern colour art photography. His work is an important document about Landscape architecture in U.S.A. It not only reveals how people used to live in U.S. but is also about the “American dream” still present nowadays. It is about how human dreams can change the landscape.

The experience with his work might not correspond to the truth because one does not have access to the reality behind it. However, it still allows us to observe something that no one could imagine before.

Eggleston documented the ordinary subjects around him: “I had this notion of what I called a democratic way of looking around, that nothing was more or less important“. (W. Eggelston). The author also leaves the content of his photos open to the viewer´s interpretation, rejecting at the same time any evident conclusion. He says: “I am at war with the obvious”. But looking at his photos, there is room to keep on asking: what is the human presence in the world, or what are the norms in a specific society?

William Eggleston. Untitled (Peaches), 1973


Small details or expressions in his portraits might remind us of a familiar situation or reveal a concern. They might make us question about the subject’s thoughts, about their lives and their land. Its photographic details might even remind someone of some previously heard story.

Eggleston´s work is not about an individual personality or about a specific landscape. It is about archetypes and the universality that makes us be human beings. His photos are about the experience of being human. They reflect about our presence in places and objects.

The time of an action is fundamental in his work. The objects alone suggest an action that is about to happen or an action in the past. In Eggleston’s frames, the action has a dynamic movement by itself, even if it is physically frozen. A stopped action is, after all, still an action.

The directions in space indicate a deepness and orient the vision of the observer. These directions do not propose a specific movement (or action). This can be observed in the photos of roads, where the individuals are free to choose the direction they want to go (´Southern Suite´, 1981). People can even to choose to go out of the road (like in the photo ‘Near Mintr City and Glendora, Mississippi’).

William Eggleston. Near Minther City and Glendora, Mississippi, 1969-70


Eggleston doesn’t give titles to his photos. It is also irrelevant if he observes the subjects in a familiar perspective or in an illogic way. “Often people asked me what I am photographing, which is a hard question to answer. The best that I can reply is: Life as it looks like today”. (W. Eggelston)

The subjects in his compositions are not chosen because of the social stratum they fit in, they are just shapes and colours. People are just beautiful compositions.

Eggleston calls photographic dreams “non-beautiful pictures after another that just don´t exist“. I wish that one day it is possible to create modern landscapes like dreams (always) in colour.

William Eggleston. Untitled, c.1971-73, from Troubled Waters, 1980

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