William Eggleston acclaimed as greatest photographer

posted by Bridget on 22 April 2013

It is always dangerous to attach the superlative adjective "greatest" to anyone as it inevitably elicits the response, "no they aren't".

The Independent headlined Michael Glover's feature on William Eggleston - Genius in colour: Why William Eggleston is the world's greatest photographer.

The importance of Eggleston in the history of photography is assured. His revolutionary role in bringing non advertising photography into colour is certainly one of the most important acts in the history of photography. His influence on a future generation of photographers is profound.

But to say he was the greatest, ever, is a bold claim.

Glover supports his assertion by suggesting that without Eggleston, Martin Parr, Nan Goldin or Jeff Wall would not have been who they were without his example. But while Parr is certainly a colourist, his impulse is more social documentary than Eggleston's. Wall often has a politcial message in his reconstructions and Nan Goldin discovered the importance of her own life through photographing her friends.

The point about Eggleston is he had no message. At a time when photography was all about message, the social document, Eggleston had no agenda, no interest in politics. Eggleston just had[s] his eyes and a camera and went and continues to go, in search of things that interest him. His work is about what he sees. He cares little if we like it, understand it, accept it. He simply makes it because he has to.

That is his genius, he has that rare gift - an eye, and an incorrigible need to make images. He can make sense of the banal, the everyday and fill it, not with documentary meaning, but with an explosion of colour set within a form that is an abstraction of the real.

He is great, he is influential, he is a genius and he is one of the most important image makers of the 20th century but is he the greatest photographer ever?

eggleston independent

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