Power House exhibit celebrates William Eggleston

If William Eggleston's pictures didn't convey a sense of mystery, he might not be one of the most renowned photographers in the world today.

His snapshots from everyday life -- a tricycle left on a sidewalk, a lightbulb against a red ceiling -- have captivated not only art critics but his fellow photographers.

 A photograph of  William Eggleston taken by Maude Schuyler Clay appears in a new exhibit at Power House Memphis called 'Guilding Light: A tribute to William Eggleston.'

A photograph of William Eggleston taken by Maude Schuyler Clay appears in a new exhibit at Power House Memphis called "Guilding Light: A tribute to William Eggleston."

In November, the Whitney Museum in New York will mount a major retrospective of Eggleston's work, a landmark achievement for the Memphis resident.

In anticipation of that honor, an exhibit opening tonight at Power House Memphis puts the lens not on Eggleston's photos, but on the quirky man himself. In some ways, his personality is as exceptional as his art.

"Guiding Light: A Tribute to William Eggleston" features illuminating portraits of Eggleston as snapped by his fellow artists.

"He's gotten so famous that everyone wants to have a picture of Bill," said Mississippi-based photographer Maude Schuyler Clay, a cousin of Eggleston. "People are curious about how artists live."

While she's taken many photos of him over the years, her favorite came when he visited her in New York City and the two of them were heading out for a photo shoot. Wearing a tweed jacket and holding a camera, Eggleston resembles a professorial tourist in Clay's portrait.

"He's so interesting to photograph. He always goes around looking like a refugee from the English countryside or a Prussian general," she said.

Mitch Epstein was a student in 1973 when Eggleston visited one of his classes at the Cooper Union School of Art in New York City.

"I was quite floored by the work that I saw of his, but it was also beyond my comprehension," he said. "He has the genius of being able to make a picture out of anything. That took me some time to absorb."

In 1981, Epstein was commissioned as a photographer on the set of the film "Annie," and one day Eggleston showed up along with Garry Winogrand, a photographer famed for his portrayals of American life in the early 1960s.

Epstein started shooting.

His contribution to this exhibit is the contact sheets from that 1981 shoot.

"It speaks to my way of working at the time," Epstein said. "But it also shows the connection between these two great men."

Eggleston has already been the subject of two documentary films. The first one from 2005, Michael Almereyda's "William Eggleston In the Real World," will be on regular rotation in the exhibit.

The second documentary, by German filmmaker Reiner Holzemer, is due for release later this year. Holzemer contributed a three-minute trailer for his film, "William Eggleston: Photographer."

Other contributors include Langdon Clay, David Gordon, Everett McCourt, Steve Pyke, Jason Schmidt, Stephen Shore, Alec Soth and Juergen Teller.

Curator Peter Fleissig said the portraits taken over the last 30 years shine a light on Eggleston's eccentric personality. "For me, it has been like putting a book together," Fleissig said. "It has a definite narrative to it."

-- Christopher Blank: 529-2305

"Guiding Light: A Tribute to William Eggleston"

Reception tonight, 6-8 p.m. at Power House Memphis, 45 G.E. Patterson.

The exhibit is free and continues through Nov. 22. Gallery hours are 12-6 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays and 1-6 p.m. Sundays. For more information on Power House, go to powerhousememphis.org.

Call 578-5545.

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