William Eggleston has had a long history with music and musicians, from his “red ceiling” image on Big Star’s 1974 album Radio City to Spoon’s Transference in 2010. It’s no wonder so many bands have been influenced by his beautiful images of everyday objects and settings. Eggleston’s photos, currently on view, have a slight uneasy mood. The rich color and his exacting eye forces you to look twice at a telephone or a coke bottle or a girl’s hair in the sunlight that you might have passed if you were walking by.
Being a musician himself (he’s a self-taught master pianist and organist), Eggleston’s understanding of light and color contains a kind of musicality that is evident in his images. David Berman (aka Silver Jews), whose album Tanglewood Numbers features an image from the Los Alamos series, said he chose to use one of Eggleston’s images on the cover because “it’s warm inside these photos.”
Songwriters often write from their own personal experience, but what makes a song most memorable and affecting is a universality to which we can all relate. The same could be said for Eggleston’s photographs. Their subjects might be banal objects of the everyday, but they illuminate intricacies of life. As Eggleston himself said, “photographs have nothing to do with words… you can love art and appreciate art but you can’t really talk about it, it doesn’t make any sense.”
In thinking about the images in the exhibition and the music inspired by them, I created a playlist of selected songs from albums featuring a William Eggleston image on the cover. Those albums are also on view, along with the original photos, in the exhibition. For Alex Chilton’s album Like Flies on Sherbert, Eggleston himself was involved in the design of the cover. His sketchbook, with drawings from he made for the cover design is also on view.
Tomorrow on Unframed we’ll have an interview with Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World, whose 2001 album Bleed American also features an Eggleston photograph. For an extra treat, come to the museum on Monday, December 6, for an special performance from Chuck Prophet inside the Eggleston galleries. The concert is free, though tickets are required.
Finally, check out the video for Cat Power’s “Lived in Bars,” shot at Eggleston’s house in Memphis and directed by Robert Gordon, who worked with Eggleston to create the Stranded in Canton video, also on view in the exhibition.
Adrienne Adar, Ralph M. Parsons Curatorial Fellow