Monday, April 29, 2013


At the weekend I had a Slammin’ Slider – that was the name on the side of the food truck anyway.  My sliders contained pulled pork and were scattered with crispy fried onions – and they were just fine if you like sliders, though I'm never sure I really do.  The Loved One would have had the Philly Cheese Steak but the truck had run out of mayonnaise, which seems a slam of a different sort: she had the potato croquettes instead with a dip that may or may not have been mayo-based.  These were fine too.  I'm pretty sure I like potato croquettes better than sliders.  So why did I order sliders?  Just one more imponderable.

We were at Paris Photo L.A.; a photography fair on the Paramount Studio lot, a place I’d never set foot before, though I’d driven and walked past often enough. I was there, among other things, to gawk at William Eggleston, who was doing a signing at the Gagosian stand.  Mr. E is a famous southern dandy and drinker.  I can’t say that he looked exactly stewed at the signing but he did look pleasantly marinated.

It would be pretty darn idle and reductive to think of Eggleston as a “food photographer,” but even so, he’s taken two of the greatest pictures of food and drink I’ve ever seen  This is the first:

I’m reminded of it every time I get on a plane.  I always get a window seat if I can, and I always try to arrange my glass so that the sun might shine through it in precisely this way.  But it never quite does.  And the image seems so still, so calm, so isolated, so untroubled and unhassled, so optimistic; not the way I ever feel when I’m on a plane, but the way I always want to feel. 

The second great photograph is this one, rather more complicated in some ways, I think: 

I've seen it captioned "Sumner, Mississippi," and we know that's where Eggleston was raised on a “plantation," and I’d guess this photograph was taken there.   My first superficial impression was that here was a grand spread of southern food laid out for a feast, maybe Thanksgiving; but of course when you look even slightly more closely you see it’s a meal for one.  My friends from the South also tell me this is pretty much everyday fare down there.  I've also seen the photograph captioned "Dinner."

Even so this seems lot of trouble to go to for just one person, and it’s not just the food but the silverware and the flower arrangement.  And perhaps there’s something sad and lonely about going to all this effort when you're by yourself, something a bit Miss Haversham.   But then, maybe that’s the whole point.  Just because you’re eating along doesn’t mean you have to slouch on the couch and eat a slab of pizza. Southerners are great believers in keeping up standards.  And maybe there’s something rather noble in going to precisely this amount of trouble, in taking pleasure and delight in small things even when there’s nobody there to share them with you.  This to a large extent is what Eggleston’s work is about; and, of course, the camera is there to help in the sharing, to be an observer, and perhaps to be an honored guest at the table. 

I’m not sure that Eggleston is a big eater, and according to an interview he did with the New Yorker in 2008, he had a troubled relationship with at least one eating establishment: the Lamplighter Lounge in Memphis, from which he was banned for at least a decade.  There he is above at the Lamplighter, in a photo by Stanley Booth.  

The celebrated Miss Shirley was a bartender at the Lamplighter Lounge for the best part of four decades: she died in 2010.  The cause of Eggleston’s ban, according to that New Yorker interview: “I got really drunk one time, and I threw a hamburger at Shirley, who had just made it.”  The ban sounds fair enough to me.

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