Dave Eggers to Geoff Dyer and Eggleston, Somehow

One thing us bloggers like to avoid is repetition, writing a new post that includes the same information already mentioned elsewhere. It’s taboo.

But, this time I just couldn’t help myself.

While reading Michael David Murphy’s 2point8, I came across this post in which Michael shared a short short story (from Short Short Stories) by Dave Eggers in relation to his previous posts about good writing on photography:

Woman Waiting to Take a Photograph
by Dave Eggers

The woman is a young woman. She wants to make a living as a photographer, but at the moment she is temping at a company that publishes books about wetlands preservation. On her days off she takes pictures, and today she is sitting in her car, across the street from a small grocery store called The Go-Getters Market. The store is located in a very poor neighbourhood: the windows are barred and at night a roll-down steel door covers the storefront. The woman thus finds the name Go-Getters an interesting one, because it is clear that the customers of the market are anything but. They are drunkards and prostitutes and transients, and the young photographer thinks that if she can get the right picture of some of these people entering the store, she will make a picture that would be considered trenchant, or even poignant – either way the product of a sharp and observant eye. So she sits in her Toyota Camry, which her parents gave her because it was four years old and they wanted something new, and she waits for the right poor person to enter or leave the store. She has her window closed, but will open it when the right person appears, and then shoot that person under the sign that says Go-Getters. This, for the viewer of her photograph when it is displayed – first in a gallery, then in the hallway of a collector, and later in a museum when she has her retrospective – will prove that she, the photographer, has a good eye for the inequities and injustices of life, for hypocrisy and the exploitation of the underclass.

I, too, am often in search of these “good” texts on photography. Michael mentioned that he would use Eggers’ story as a first handout to his class, be it a writing or photography course. How do I enroll?

A relatively recent book that hasn’t made it’s way on to my own blog is The Ongoing Moment by Geoff Dyer.

“The Ongoing Moment,” 2005
© Geoff Dyer

Mr. Dyer writes about photography, for the most part American photography, as practiced by a handful of masters and contemporaries. It is not a book for beginners; it assumes not only some knowledge of the history of American photography — the famous photographers and what sort of pictures they have taken — but also access to the many photographs that Dyer talks about but does not reproduce. Nonetheless, it’s worth picking up for future reference if you aren’t already photo-literate.

The New Yorker says about the book:

A self-styled “scholarly gatecrasher,” Dyer has written with equal fervor about D. H. Lawrence, military history, and jazz. Here he turns to photography, with the caveat “I make no claim to being an expert in this or any other field.” Indeed, he confesses, “I don’t even own a camera.” The resulting book is a curious encyclopedia, purposefully eclectic and incomplete. The images are taken mostly from the canon of American twentieth-century photography, but Dyer arranges them in unexpected clusters—blind accordionists here, vacant benches there. He imagines William Eggleston’s pictures to be the work of a Martian, stranded in Middle America, who keeps looking for his lost ticket home, “with a haphazard thoroughness that confounds established methods of investigation.” The Martian is an apt stand-in for Dyer, a flâneur in the world of photography, who bypasses the famous sights in favor of back alleys and side streets.

I was happy to find KCRW’s Bookworm with Geoff Dyer. This was rather pleasant to listen to after reading the book. As KCRW points out, “There are no chapters. Instead, one brief section leads to another, making it almost impossible to put the book down.” And, they are very right.

I’ll end with this: an Eggleston image (as Dyer might describe as being “taken by a Martian who lost the ticket for his flight home and ended up working at a gun shop in a small town near Memphis”).

© William Eggleston


  • That Eggers piece is also included in “The Education of a Photographer” – a nice collection of essays, interviews, etc. (perhaps you know of it). There are a couple of other snippets of interesting photography-related fiction in there as well.

    Quite a nice reading list being generated on these blogs!

    I’m enjoying both your blog and your work, btw.

  • Stephen,

    Thanks — it’s actually on my ‘list’ of things to read. Maybe I’ll move it to the top if you recommend it.

    And thank you for the kind words.

  • “..but also access to the many photographs that Dyer talks about but does not reproduce…” – I don’t think that this was through any fault of his own. I recollect that in the book he says that a number of the collections/libraries/photographers that held the printing rights refused to give their photographs over to Dyer for reproduction in his book or such approvals came to late to meet publication deadlines. Nevertheless, it’s still a fine read…

  • Akikana,

    Oh, that observation wasn’t meant to have a negative connotation at all. I, personally, don’t think that all visual references in texts need to be reproduced in the book but that, in this case, the reader should (or may like to) have some background knowledge on photo history prior to picking up Dyer’s book.

    It’s a great read, for sure.

  • Apologies from me too – wasn’t trying to be cute or anything. I really enjoyed the book and remembered him writing something to the effect that if you didn’t get it then perhaps the inclusion of photographs (i.e. approvals received from) of Robert Frank, Diane Arbus plus one other may have made the journey easier. It was also a little rude not to introduce myself before launching in. Reached your site via a link at photo.net and kenshukan.net/john. Have not had a chance to look through all your work but can definitely say that you have matured very well over the last couple of years with your style of shooting.

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