In a day, actually two days spent in Tate Modern, it is surprising that I was most intrigued by a print that did not scream the loudest in the room, despite the photographer: William Eggleston, is regarded as the revolutionary figure in using coloured prints from a fine arts perspective. There were no over saturated or super-textural surfaces. Also it is surprising that I was excited about a print that did not feature a person or any living thing for that matter.
The photograph is of an empty American diner with a colour-blocked wall of mint green and buttermilk yellow, interrupted with two decorations of plastic flowers and vegetables including an intensely red cherry tomato. There is a feeling of abandonment in a way that resembles a cliché of an old woman left at the altar 30 years ago that still wears her broken and tarnished wedding dress. The wall is further interrupted with an illuminated sign of green and white with the only visible text being “3”.
There are two tables with lacquered surfaces coloured white and grey that holds an ashtray, tooth picks placed inside a very small bottle, metal napkin holder, salt and pepper.
The arrangements of these differ on both tables as well as the chair combinations around it. Each chair is of different material and colour, some repaired with silver coloured duck tape that adds onto the feeling of decay through disuse. It feels ironic that the photograph was taken in 1976, at an era where diversity and equal opportunities were not seen as paramount, that each chair around one table is completely different.
The whole frame is almost equally in focus. The angle of the tables forms a natural lead-in-line that leads to no specific focus. This makes me regard the cliché abandoned old lady again and her hopeless cling onto hope that he will one day return after realising his mistake.
When this single image is placed together with other pieces from the “Elective Eve”, the feeling of abandonment increases. The series feature pieces such as a rusty gasoline stand with no cars around, empty long roads and an oxidised metallic shed that is overgrown with vegetation. The series also allows the viewer to know that it was taken during the campaign period of Jimmy Carter- “let’s elect Jimmy Carter president” as stated by a car bumper. Eggleston was commissioned by the Rolling Stone magazine to photograph the state of Georgia before the election of Jimmy Carter. Caldecot Chubb as their first book of original photographs, published this later.
Jimmy Carter was the 39th president of the USA and was elected on 2nd November 1976. He left his mark in the American history with his work with the creation of Department of Energy and brought stricter regulations on nuclear energy plants following the “Three Mile Island” accident in 1979. This may be a clue why these photographs feature in Energy and Processes Exhibition.
As the gallery leaflet states, Energy and Processes wing focuses on the Arte Povera movement of the 1960’s Italy and its reflections around the world. This term was first used by the critic Germano Celant in 1967 and described a movement that tried to glue together the world of art with everyday life. These pieces are characterised by juxtapositions of items that at first seem unrelated. It is not unthinkable at all that Eggleston is featured there as he describes his genre as “life today” and often his compositions are bold, striking and of very generic items such as cracked ceilings. The remainder of gallery features other artists showcasing sculptures using metal, glass and wood, collages and video. At first this reminded me of an exhibition in the Welcome Trust “Outsider Art from Japan” due to use of techniques such as quilting and objects that are readily available, however this is very much like saying that some work featured in an art gallery resembles Monet just because oil paints were used.
The room featuring Eggleston is large in size and only shows his work, keeping photography completely separate from the other mediums used. This is a good indication of the importance of his work in relation to the Arte Povera movement and art of this era. His work stands out in the gallery due to it being presented in a simple black frame with white mounting. This acts to visually saturate the colour a little more and strengthen the compositions. It would have been very misfortunate not to display the work in this manner when impressive colour use is what he is most renowned for.
All photographs are by William Eggleston as part of “Elective Eve” series.