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William Eggleston

It is all about defamiliarising the familiar. When our eyes are, by no means in any negative way, trained to take for granted a world glutted with colours, hardly we will conceive of something normal as anomalous. But if we now take our unfettered imagination a bit further and let us envisage a world that is essentially monochrome, that every shade and hue are bled out of every object and every entity, gradually and consequently, we will be beholding a fantastical sight that used to leave us sniggering when we were exhuming our parents’ family album. Everything suddenly looks so archaic, and it inspires in us a peculiar feeling that our existence will no sooner be whizzing to an untimely termination. Black and white invariably impart a vague sense of an impending death.

William Eggleston’s photography looks like colours that erupt from the hearts of the monochrome figures, like mummies suddenly coming to life. The feeling is electrifying, but not without tinges of fear and apprehension. Colours denote progress, advancement, modernity, technology, and we, who were hitherto so cosy with our old days’ simplicity, recoil from this formidable monster who wields his sceptre as he heralds change. The beauty of colourful nature is an elusive knowledge we are yet conversant with. Our eyes instead linger on a squalid corner where we used to brook with admirable magnanimity. The place is now deluged with ghastly green light. And we are disgusted.

Green car, green building, set against a purple sky scattered with strands of wispy, orange afterglow. Nature’s composition can be so capricious and indecipherable that we cannot help sensing something portentous coming. With what purpose is the car pulling over beside the building? Whose car is it? Is the person an old friend of the resident(s) of the house? Or is the car also a property belonging to the owner of the house? Is the car unoccupied? Or is someone still in the car?

Anyone endowing with a febrile imagination can take a step too far when assessing this mysterious photo. Almost every piece of Eggleston’s oeuvre is like that, it is constantly veiled with a film of enigma, and therefore breeds numerous stories. But what ultimately engenders the unnerving feel is the colour- the colour that looks so unnatural, so deliberate, and in some cases, so incongruous with the object it represents and illumines.

Before the advent of photoshop or any other graphic editing programmes, a photographer is one who is essentially impassive and staying detached from the object he captures. Even when transposing the object into a subject the photographer is still expected to behold his artwork with a pair of cold eyes. A photographer is no more than a mere recorder, but a recorder who possesses the autonomy of selecting. If there is any flicker of sympathy left underneath the callous nature of a photographer, that is perhaps it- the life of every existing object is at the mercy of the photographer, who presses away the shutter like that formidable monster who wields the sceptre. Life barely trembles when it is immortalised in a photograph.

A photographer might not always be the aloof onlooker of the scene he captures. His presence might also be found in the photo. As in the case of Eggleston’s I feel he is dwelling in that coruscating window adjacent to the green building. His halo is burning but all he knows is that being there he is seeing the world as a ten-year-old, and he is his only friend.


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