Rediscovering William Eggleston

“I just remember being very happy during the dream”

William Eggleston

In April 2023 I had the chance to visit the C/O gallery in Berlin that at the time showed the exhibition „Mystery of the Ordinary“ by William Eggleston, which somewhat compelled me to write this article.
Eggleston’s work first appeared in my life around 2015 in a photography class in university, along with Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson. It was about the time when I had started photography myself on a more serious level and it was eye opening.

I vividly remember seeing his famous photo „Untitled, Greenwood, Mississippi, 1973“ aka “The Red Ceiling” asking myself how this could be meant as serious photography. Nonetheless it moved me. I was reminded of red light districts, unlivable living conditions and an unspoken sense of obscenity. That first impression was followed by more examples of his work and it slowly drew me in and I began to understand that photography was more than pretty portraits and astonishing landscapes and that the way I had captured my everyday life and surroundings with my simple point and shoot camera was a valid way of approaching photography. Back then I was already aware that artistic photography has a higher purpose than solely being decorative, but for me Eggleston’s view took it to a whole new level. The way his pictures are composed so lightly, the language of those flashing vibrant colors and the chosen subjects felt amusing to me, already back then.
(You can get an impression of what I am talking about here

Regardless, for a few years Eggleston’s photography vanished into the back of my mind as a brief intermezzo.
Fast forward to 2023.
When I saw the ad to „Mystery of the Ordinary“ something klicked in my memory. The visual imagery felt familiar – it was Eggleston.
In the meantime I had picked up an interest in the complex culture, politics and people of the southern states of the US, especially Tennessee. Mixed in with a feeling of nostalgia due to the decades that Eggleston’s work mostly covers, it now resonates deeply within me.
The view on the banality and its details and the way he sees and observes them with such a meticulous eye leaves me being enchanted by the mundane and the beauty it holds.

Eggleston himself states his way of working as “photographic dreams”1 taking a single shot of what piques his interest and then forgetting about it afterwards.
“I just remember being very happy during the dream”²
to me feels like the perfect description of submerging into the picture you are taking – being present in the moment.
This approach of photography makes me feel so seen.
Speaking personally in my earlier years of photography I was hesitant of capturing people, so I held onto complex compositions of found scenes in my everyday life. Celebrating them as something magical and special, that is in urgent need of acknowledgement, emerging a feeling of excitement and almost childlike happiness and curiosity.

Seeing Eggleston’s photographs live and on display in the exhibition made my heart skip a beat. I could playfully get lost in them for hours, observing the little details and being in awe about every composition and diving into the unique atmosphere every image holds. Being reintroduced to his pictures after years of working on my own photography and trying to understand this medium, it speaks to me even more. They feel like home and if it was possible to physically hug a photo I surely would do that to a few of them. 

Disclaimer: Please excuse the lack of pictures in this article. But for the purpose of not getting sued, I refrained from direct quoting any pictures and photos that do not belong to me. Feel free to check out the links on the bottom of this article though for a better understanding. It’s also very rewarding.

The Red Ceiling
1,² Imagine, The Colourful Mr Eggleston (2009) (46:26 – 46:51)