Let’s finish up that conversation with the photographer William Eggleston. His retrospective opens Friday at the Whitney Museum in New York.
LACAYO: There are certain pictures of your’s that I think of as your Nan Goldin pictures.
EGGLESTON: Nan and I are very close. I adore her. We talk back and forth all the time.
LACAYO: For instance, that businessman sitting somberly on a bed in a hotel room holding a drink — who is he?
EGGLESTON: That was taken in a motel in Alabama near Huntsville, where there’s a NASA research facility. Before dinner one night I was strolling around the motel there. The doors were open. I knew him. I just made that one picture. Then we sat and chatted a bit.
LACAYO: I always that there was some profound drama behind it.
EGGLESTON: He seems quite lonely. But that’s just the way he seems. He didn’t feel that way. He was having a very nice bourbon. He was in a good mood. He just happened to look that way when I took the picture. But I can easily see how a stranger, seeing that image, would think all those things.
LACAYO: What about the pure color pictures, like your picture of the inside of an oven that’s all black?
EGGLESTON: Someone described that as “a suicide’s oven.” Nothing could have been further from my mind. But I thought, when I was taking it, that the results would be unlike any other picture I had seen. For one thing it was in color. You just don’t encounter too many pictures of open ovens.
LACAYO: In the early ’60s Robert Frank said: “You can photograph anything now”. When I read that quote years later your picture of an oven was the first thing that flashed through my mind. Because it was a picture of something so banal and everyday that no one had ever thought to take a picture of it before.
EGGLESTON: I’ve felt that way about that picture. I made a picture of a freezer that I’ve felt that way about too.
LACAYO: Inevitably to a lot of people you’ve seemed like a “Southern photographer”. But I know you’ve said that phrase doesn’t have any meaning as applied to you.
EGGLESTON: I have never considered myself making what one could call Southern art. There is such a thing, but I don’t do it. Maybe it’s a crazy feeling of mine, but I believe my pictures could have been taken anywhere, whether they were taken in Mississippi or overseas. They look southern because that’s where they were taken. I don’t how to make them look any other way unless I go changing the landscape around here with chainsaws.
LACAYO: Are you religious at all? Do you have spiritual beliefs of any kind?
EGGLESTON: Absolutely not. Oh no, just the opposite. The idea of a soul to me is ridiculous. And you can imagine the contempt I have for religions. But I don’t know if that comes through in my work.
LACAYO: Well there’s a strong sense in your work of someone trying to validate the world we live in, to make the most of the time and place we occupy.
EGGLESTON: Good. [Laughs.] I’m fine with that.