Sunday, September 1, 2013

Saint Simon's Island, Georgia

I am not sure why I am drawn to this photograph today, of all days. A few things come to mind. Today was the first day of spring, and the sun shone like it knew the calendar by heart. With the front and back doors wide open, I baked chocolate brownies in the AM, silver beet pie in the PM. I washed a lot of dishes, and I didn't mind it. And as I type this I am one hour into the Masterchef finale.

This photograph was taken by William Eggleston, a giant of American photography, who has documented everyday life in the South for close to 50 years. Eggleston is known for his use of colour. It's hard to believe but there was a time when colour lacked artistic credibility. Flicking through any number of Eggleston photographs, I always get the sense this would have worried him little. Far from the world cultural centre's in regional cities and their outlying suburbs, he started to document the landscape, local diners and inhabitants of this pocket of the world with a singular eye.

At the age of 11 I inherited several boxes of National Geographics dating back to the 1930s. My favourites belonged to the late 1970s. Eggleston photographs share National Geographic's visual mode, a kind of embedded visual anthropology but unlike that iconic magazine, Eggleston's photographs have no editorial imperative. Working within an artistic context, he brings a slightly  skew-iff perspective or deliberate flatness to his subject. That flatness relates not to depth of field but the overall tone of the photographs.

Critics interpret it in various ways. I respond to the simple poetry of Saint Simon's Island (1978). There is something satisfying about clean dishes drying on a rack, job done. But really, it's all about the light and what that lit up room has to say: the sun rises and sets and rises once more.

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