|William Eggleston - The Democratic Forest, 1988|
One of my all time favorite photobooks is William Eggleston's The Democratic Forest. Published in 1988, the work is a sequence of around 150 images which form an almost autobiographic narrative, beginning with pictures of Eggleston's home territory in the Mississippi Delta and radiating out across the USA.
In an afterward in the book Eggleston talks about his process, a view that resonated with me then and does now.
“I was in Oxford, Mississippi for a few days and I was driving out to Holly Springs on a back road, stopping here and there. It was the time of year when the landscape wasn’t yet green. I left the car and walked into the dead leaves off the road. It was one of those occasions when there was no picture there. It seemed like nothing, but of course there was something for someone out there. I started forcing myself to take pictures of the earth, where it had been eroded thirty or forty feet from the road. There were a few weeds. I began to realize that soon I was taking some pretty good pictures, so I went further into the woods and up a little hill, and got well into an entire roll of film.
Later, when I was having dinner with some friends, writers from around Oxford, or maybe at the bar of the Holiday Inn, someone said, ‘What have you been photographing here today, Eggleston?’ ‘Well, I’ve been photographing democratically,’ I replied. ‘But what have you been taking pictures of?’ ‘I’ve been outdoors, nowhere, in nothing.’ ‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, just woods and dirt, a little asphalt here and there.’
Today, Eggleston's output is being reconfigured in a series of bookworks from Steidl that in my view focuses on quantity rather rather than quality. The revisited Democratic Forest is a ten-volume set containing more than 1,000 photographs and is drawn from a body of 12,000 pictures made by Eggleston in the 1980s. Following an opening volume of work in Louisiana, the ensuing volumes cover Eggleston's travels from his familiar ground in Memphis and Tennessee out to Dallas, Pittsburgh, Miami and Boston, the pastures of Kentucky and as far as the Berlin Wall.
I've always liked the story, Henri Cartier-Bresson talking to Bill Brandt. HCB said to Brandt (it may have been the other way around) how many great pictures did you make last year, Brandt replied, oh about twelve. HCB responds, ah well you always did exaggerate.
Eggleston's reconfigured Democratic Forest with 1,000 images made over ten years gives a great picture output of 100 images a year. Assuming that is, that all the pictures in the work are great. Let's wait and see.
|William Eggleston - The Democratic Forest, 2015|