William Eggleston (self-portrait), early 1970s
What was Michael Almereyda looking for as he went through four decades of work by the fine-art photographer and Memphian William Eggleston?
Film and TV director, screenwriter, and documentarian Michael Almereyda was looking at the 35,000 digital scans of Eggleston's work inside the Eggleston Artistic Trust in Memphis. What didn't he (and we) already know of Eggleston's landmark work — from his breakthrough exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 1976 to his recent retrospective organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, a show titled "William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008," a show that is still on tour?
He [Almereyda] was drawn to images that offered an "offhand intimacy," the "emotional temperature" "at once tender and aloof."
Almereyda writes in For Now, a book of 88 heretofore unseen color plates by Eggleston published by Twin Palms, that he was looking for "images carrying narrative implications, traces of a story that might exist . . . just outside the picture frame." He was looking at people, many of them Eggleston's blood relatives, including his wife, Rosa, and their three children. He was drawn to images that offered an "offhand intimacy," the "emotional temperature" that is "at once tender and aloof."
He saw, in addition to those closest to Eggleston, the commonest of sights: a depopulated parking lot, a hardware store's pegboard, a neon-red ceiling, a faded sign reading, "Hey Look!" What he saw, again in Almereyda's words, was "the mundane, the makeshift, all the fragmentary raw proofs of civilization as a perishable human construction."
And he saw in the portrait that opens For Now an image of a woman coming apart at the seams. The photograph is untitled, as all the images here are untitled, but a wrinkled kitchen poster reading "BLUES" is just out of focus behind and to the left of the woman's face. And for the identity of that woman, we find in the list of plates that she is Leigh Haizlip. The location: Memphis. The year: sometime in the 2000s. What are the "narrative implications" here? The story that "might exist"? Almereyda in his afterword to the book doesn't venture a guess. Let the image do its work.
Almereyda also writes that opposed to the photographs included in "William Eggleston: Democratic Camera" he went looking for "the B-sides, the bootlegs, the unreleased tracks" — unseen, unpublished images that here include several of Rosa Eggleston, a fresh-faced Viva (the Warhol "superstar"), musician Ike Turner, cotton merchant Julian Hohenberg, and anonymous locations that only an eagle-eyed Memphian could identify as a car wash on Poplar near Mendenhall and the parking lot of a Zayre store (remember them?) in mid-'60s Midtown.
Besides Almereyda (who made the excellent documentary William Eggleston in the Real World and who wrote an insightful essay for a previous book of Eggleston's work, 5x7), we have, in For Now, contributions from writer/producer Lloyd Fonvielle, journalist Kristine McKenna, cultural critic Greil Marcus, and film critic Amy Taubin. And as they've done with 5x7 and William Eggleston's Stranded in Canton, the production work by Twin Palms here is superb. This publisher knows to leave well enough alone — a picture per page, no accompanying captions — so as not to detract from William Eggleston's overlooked B-sides.
February: It may be still wintry in Memphis, but what better time to sit back and admire some settees and side tables, tea tables and games tables, headboards and sideboards? Especially, that is, when those furnishings are set inside the warm and bright plantation houses of the West Indies — the British West Indies. And that's just what native Memphian and national authority on Caribbean furniture design Michael Connors has done in British West Indies Style (Rizzoli). The book was published last fall, but it's a real pleasure to leaf through its pages now — pages that chart the history of the British presence in the Caribbean and the high-end material culture the English landowners and traders introduced or had reproduced.
From Queen Anne to Georgian to neoclassical to Regency to more modern styles, the British took their home-island furniture models to the far islands of Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, and beyond. To suit the climate, mahogany was the wood of choice. Enslaved African West Indians, with their inborn woodworking skills, were the craftsmen of choice. And sugar was the commodity to cultivate and to export if a fortune is what you wanted to make. For evidence of those fortunes, you too can see inside the homes that the author himself saw and had photographed.
Connors, who lives part of the year on St. Croix, has already written Caribbean Elegance, French Island Elegance, Cuban Elegance, and for Rizzoli in 2009 Caribbean Houses: History, Style, and Architecture. Now, it's the turn of British colonizers in the Caribbean to show some restraint in the face of all that elegance. But restraint doesn't have to mean any loss of richness. These are beautiful rooms that Connors describes and depicts; the pieces he highlights are equally outstanding; but the views beyond — of sea and mountains: They're spectacular.
It's a long way from dirty classrooms with radiators encrusted with dried tobacco juice to a state-of-the-art lecture hall equipped for videoconferences and PowerPoint presentations. It's, all told, a hundred years — a century in the life of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, which is celebrating its centenary this month with a coffee-table-size book of text and photos called The Legacy, The Future.
That legacy begins in 1911, when the University of Tennessee became actively engaged in healthcare education by locating its "medical units" in Memphis. But those beginnings — be it the buildings or the students — were not exactly auspicious. According to Professor Orren W. Hyman, who arrived at the school in 1913 and who (a legend in his own right) retired as vice president in 1961, "it was alleged that students spent more time shooting craps than attending the presentation of the teacher" inside Rogers Hall on Madison Avenue. And what rats were doing inside the cadaver room when Dr. Hyman entered at night to practice dissection we'll leave it to readers to imagine.
No need to imagine the tremendous strides that UTHSC has made in its hundred years. The proof is inside The Legacy, The Future.
But no need to imagine the tremendous strides that UTHSC has made in its hundred years. The proof is inside The Legacy, The Future: Dr. Lemuel Diggs, a leader in our understanding of sickle cell disease; Dr. James Etteldorf, a pioneer in pediatric surgery; Dr. James Pate, another pioneer, in heart surgery; and once again, Dr. Hyman. It was UT president Andrew Holt who summed up Dr. Hyman's contributions to the school the following way: "No head of an institution has been more soundly cussed but more universally loved and respected by his alumni."
Today, those alumni (more than 13,000 from the College of Medicine alone) graduate in a multitude of health fields, which are illustrated in this book's splendid contemporary photographs. Readers, though, will be just as interested in the book's black-and-white archival photos, not the least of which is the shot of a football team composed of medical, dental, and pharmacy students in 1921. That team that year outscored its opponents, from high school to college teams, 151 to 12 and continued their winning ways until the team disbanded five years later.
During that time, enrollment at the school grew from 56 in 1920 to almost 400, and leave it to Dr. Hyman to estimate the team's importance: "The Doctors football team put the University of Tennessee Medical Units on the map."
Maybe so, but The Legacy, The Future amply shows that the University of Tennessee Health Science Center had a medically more important impact on the national and world map and on its home base, Memphis, in its first hundred years.