Category Archive: Memphis
It’s easy to forget that once upon a time, if you wanted to discover, find or look for new things you would have to leave the house and burn pavement. Alright, you could read about stuff in magazines and newspapers but to see these things (and I’m talking about photography specifically) you’d need to go to a bookshop or a gallery.
It’s all changed since then and now it’s possible to open a whole new vista just by leapfrogging from one link to another. Hell, you can do it on Twitter.
So seeing that Mr. William Eggleston has a new show at Victoria Miro (www.victoria-miro.com) until 27th Feb takes me all the way back to those pre-historic days and the opening of a door into a whole new room that, at once, seemed only to be inspirational. It was as if a whole new dawn had emerged in front of me. And it was very heaven to be alive.
Back in 1999, when I had never heard of William Eggleston, my book was called in for a job by a long gone band from the Britpop era called Gene. I dutifully sent my finest collection of band and music portraits in a 12”x16” book. A few days later I got a message back that the book was fine – yeah yeah yeah – but haven’t you got anything else? Anything different? More personal?
I did but it had never really occurred to me to send it out for a professional commission, the reason being precisely because it was personal. But, I did have it and it was a little 8”x10” book of photographic doodles. It was representative of the way my eyes framed the world when I wasn’t thinking about it. It was unselfconscious. I dropped it off at the band’s management office in Fulham, London.
A day later I was asked to come in and meet the band’s singer Martin Rossiter. He had been looking at my little 8×10 book and come to the conclusion that I was massively influenced by someone whose work he greatly admired – William Eggleston.
I had never heard of him. Martin didn’t believe me and it took some reassuring to convince him. But when I did he loved it even more – it was unselfconscious – and he then offered me one of the greatest commissions a photographer could ever ask for. The band were going to Los Angeles to play some shows and record and release a live album. My job was to go there with them and spend 7 days just roaming around LA shooting pictures of anything I felt like, to be used as the album’s artwork.
The picture that eventually made it on to the album cover was also the picture that gave the band the inspiration for the album’s title – Rising For Sunset.
Of course the story doesn’t end there, it kind of begins there. The introduction that Martin gave me to Eggleston’s work opened a door onto a room that contained Joel Meyorowitz, Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld, Lee Friedlander & Garry Winogrand. Indeed, Friedlander’s book ‘American Musicians’ is the single greatest exponent of the photographer/musician dynamic that I have ever seen and of all my books it is probably the one I would save first in a fire.
Looking into that room convinced me that I had to go and live in America and in 2001 I did. For a few years Eggleston, that son of Memphis, became something of an obsession and at around the same time I discovered the writing of Stanley Booth. Although Booth grew up Georgia, it is the writing he produced during his years living in Memphis for which he will leave a mark on my heart. Two books y’all need to check out. The True Adventures of The Rolling Stones, which is a Heart of Darkness style journey into the Stones ill fated 1969 American tour that ended with the murder by Hells Angels of a man called Meredith Hunter at the Altamont Speedway. There is also a companion documentary called Gimme Shelter by The Maysles Brothers (Grey Gardens, Salesman,) of that tour and the last thing we see as the Stones make their getaway by helicopter from the crime scene is Stanley’s tan leather jacket as he becomes the last guy out of town on the chopper. Also, check out ‘Rythm Oil’ – a compendium of his journalism, much of it for Esquire & Playboy in the 60′s.
In March 2002 I took an overnight sleeper train from New York City to Memphis and spent 4 weeks checking the place out. With the help of some contacts down there I had a mainline into some of the people that Booth had written about and who made the place what it is. Many of these people were musicians and between them had played on the greatest soul and blues records of the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s.
I’ve heard Jurgen Teller, talking in a documentary about Eggleston, say that, for him, Memphis was ‘totally boring…I mean there’s nothing there.’ But for me, it was the opposite. I got taken into the life of the city and I like to think that momentarily, I got it. So much so that I wrote a piece about it called “Damn Right I Got The Blues” for Flaunt Magazine in 2003 and along with my photographs sent it to Stanley Booth – see the text & photographs in the following post.
He replied, inviting me to stay with him in Georgia and like a rat up a drain I did. Him and Eggleston have been friends for 30/40 years and his house is stuffed full of vintage Eggleston prints – “my pension” he called them. When I asked him how they came to be friends his elliptical answer came thus: “Bill? Oh, yeah, well, he was the best man at a wedding of mine once.” Apparently, after the wedding Stanley & Bill left the ceremony together in a powder blue convertible of some sort while the new bride followed behind in a pick up truck full of dogs and shotguns.