That's Bill Eggleston above, wearing the bow tie, flanked in the foreground by my friend Lily Chubb on the left and his daughter Andra on the right, at the reception for the opening of his show Democratic Camera at LACMA last week.
The exhibition originated at the Whitney Museum in New York a couple of years ago but has been expanded and beautifully hung at LACMA's Resnick Pavlion — it's certainly the best Eggleston show I've ever seen, with images from every phase of his work from 1961 to 2008. It gives a good sense of the scope and depth of his portrait of America, one of the most important artistic projects of our time.
I attended the show with my sister Lee, on the left with Lily below:
Bill seemed a little overwhelmed by the attention at the reception, and faded a bit in the crowded, stuffy galleries, but revived when he took up a position on an outside terrace. Lily's dad Cotty pulled me aside and suggested that if I had an extra cigarette, Bill could probably use it. When I offered him one he looked at me skeptically and said, “I didn't know you could smoke here.” I said, “You're the star of the show, Bill — you can do whatever you want to do.” He laughed. “Do anything I want and say anything I want,” he said.
He smoked. Nobody told him not to. An endless stream of admirers approached him to offer their respects. (That's me with Lily below.)
I first saw a large selection of Bill's work in 1971, before it was widely known, and realized immediately how important it was. The world's eventual embrace of it never surprised me, and nearly forty years later, his recognition as a master, in shows like this one and many others, doesn't surprise me. It probably doesn't surprise him, either.
[Image © William Eggleston]
Large as the LACMA show is, it represents only a small fraction of his work. Taken as whole, it will represent an extraordinary legacy to the future. He has a kind of calm about it all, a kind of satisfaction in his service to his art and his country. Personal celebrity doesn't seem to mean much to him — what he cares about is showing people what he has seen. He seemed gratified last week that people were looking at it.
If you live in the Los Angeles area, you should really go look at it for yourself.