Mr. Tambourine ManWilliam Eggleston

photography William Eggleston
interview William J. Simmons

1

Untitled from The Democratic Forest, c. 1983-1986

 

 

WS Your friend Bob Dylan said in “Mr. Tambourine Man” something that reminded me of your work: “Though you might hear laughing, spinning, swinging madly through the sun / It’s not aimed at anyone.” Are your photographs aimed at anyone?
WE Well, I have never thought about it! I don’t know.
WS It sounds like he is thinking of a photographer! Well, people want to talk about your relationship to the history of photography, but you are also very interested in music.
WE Yes, quite.
WS So how might you compare composition in music to the composition of a photograph?
WE In photographs and in music, they either work, or they don’t. That’s the best way to put it.
WS I read in Alexander Nemerov’s essay for The Democratic Forest that you make music but you don’t call yourself a composer. You consider it to be improvisation and not composition, since you don’t write it down.
WE A great amount of what I do in music is improvisation. Now, I do play Bach. At the same time, I improvise endlessly, and I enjoy that.

That’s something that has to work as it progresses; you either know it is working, and that makes you feel better, or at least pretty good. Or you just, well, I don’t know what you do—go have a drink probably!
WS Right! If you wrote these improvisations down, would you consider yourself a composer as well as a photographer?
WE I think so. I do record them, which is like writing them down, and I convert them into notation.

 

“THESE PHOTOGRAPHS TAKE A LOT OF WORK TO REALLY UNDERSTAND THEM,
BECAUSE THEY ARE COMPLICATED BEINGS,
JUST AS COMPLICATED AS THE MOST SERIOUS MUSICAL COMPOSITIONS.”

  Download MUSE America The Travel Issue to read the full interview.