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William Eggleston, 2016, Photography by Chris Rhodes

Inside the Mind of Seminal Photographer William Eggleston

The godfather of colour photography answers Jefferson Hack's take on the Proust Questionnaire. His interview is accompanied by an original portrait shot by Eggleston devotee, Chris Rhodes

Lead ImageWilliam Eggleston, 2016, Photography by Chris Rhodes

Three weeks ago, William Eggleston made a rare appearance at David Zwirner Gallery in Mayfair, London to host a book signing of the accompanying tome to his magnificent new exhibition William Eggleston: Portraits, currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery. As one might expect, the 77-year-old, Tennessee-born photographer – whose revolutionary, five-decade strong opus has inspired generations of artists including David Lynch, Nan Goldin and Jeff Wall – drew an impressively large and diverse crowd, itself indicative of his superlative influence. One such attendee was British photographer and AnOther Magazine contributor Chris Rhodes, who seized the opportunity to take Eggleston’s portrait [seen above] to mark the occasion. “To me, he’s the greatest living photographer. I admire his visionary use of colour, turning colour photography into an art form – the simple yet profound way of photographing the mundane while ultimately creating visual poetry,” mused Rhodes, adding. “He was more than charming, a true Southern gentleman with a mischievous grin. After two photographs he assured me I had the shot because he was more interested in talking about my Contax than having his picture taken. The fact that his character almost remains a mystery only adds to mythical nature of his pictures.” 

Indeed, while Eggleston has remained hesitant in revealing the narrative threads and visual codes behind his evocative, richly-saturated works – in William Eggleston: Portraits, he has, for the first time, allowed the names and biographies of family members and friends be published in the image captions. Which, in turn, allows his audience to gain a broader personal insight into the man behind the character-strong images which have become so wonderfully familiar to us all. Below, with the assistance of his son Winston, he took time out of his lively schedule to answer Jefferson Hack’s adaptation of the Proust Questionnaire. 

What are you thinking of right now?
I’m thinking to my right is you. 

What makes you laugh?
A ten-year-old Elvis impersonator that my friend just told me about.

What makes you cry?
Thinking of a piece of music I can’t play.

What do you consider to be the greatest invention?
Discovery of the theory of waves.

Do you have a mentor or inspirational figure who has guided or influenced you?
J. S. Bach.

Where do you feel most at home?
Wherever I happen to be at the moment – except waiting in airports. 

Where are you right now?
I’m curious about the size of the universe we are within. 

What is your proudest achievement in life?
Probably creating perfect art. 

What do you most dislike about contemporary culture?
The existence of war.

What do you most like about the age we live in?
The progress of scientific knowledge – which is every moment progressing.

At what points do life and work intersect?
They are one in the same. 

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Tom Buchanan, my closest friend in prep school, wished I would get into photography. He thought I would learn about it and it would make me happy. And along with that, more than any other person, he predicted I would also find happiness and understanding in the universality of J. S. Bach. 

William Eggleston: Portraits runs at the National Portrait Gallery, London until October 23, 2016; William Eggleston: Selected Works from The Democratic Forest runs at David Zwirner New York from October 27 – December 17, 2016.