IAP Research Task: William Eggleston – Storyteller or History Writer

The American photographer William Eggleston (1939) is famed for his highly saturated images of everyday objects taken mostly in his hometown, Memphis. They feature such banal subjects as parking lots, gas stations and lightbulbs.

But is this storytelling? Certainly not in a linear sense. But the images are connected in that they document his view of everyday life in Memphis. And clearly Eggleston believes so. When interviewed by Walter Hopps in 1999 and asked what he felt was being accomplished in his photos he said:

I think of them as part of a novel I’m doing (1)

But is this history writing? In his seminal book ‘Keywords’ Raymond Williams describes history as a ‘narrative account of events’ (3:146). In his essay ‘The Photographic Message’ Rowland Barthes argues that all photographs are historical (3:28). He says:

Thanks to its code of connotation the reading of the photograph is thus always historical; it depends on the reader’s knowledge just as though it were a matter of real language, intelligible only if one has learned the signs.

My attitude to fact or fiction

The most influential work I have seen thus far is the psychological autobiographical series ‘Keep her unnoticed‘ by Maria Faulkner. She uses fictional imagery to draw attention to the issue of domestic abuse. I have used similar methods to consider domestic abuse, narcissism and gaslighting in earlier studies.

In terms of my interest in blending my approach, I am reminded of the thoughts of Gregory Crewdson. He talks about an artist having one central story to tell and that artists task is to retell it in original ways. So whether that involves fact or fiction would not matter to me.


(1) Hopps, W., 1999. Eggleston’s World (1999). [online] AMERICAN SUBURB X. Available at: <https://americansuburbx.com/2012/10/william-eggleston-egglestons-world-1999.html> [Accessed 31 August 2020].

Williams, R., 1983. Keywords. London: Fontana.

(3) Barthes, R. and Heath, S., 1977. Image, Music, Text. London: Fontana.

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