In Focus 

Eggleston in the real world; Leonard on the creative life.

In 1976, William Eggleston was the first artist granted a one-man show of color photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. But earlier in the '70s and back in Memphis, where Eggleston lived, he was redefining black-and-white portrait photography in a series that is only now being published — a series of lightning-quick shots made using a large-format, 5 x 7 camera.

The subjects were friends and acquaintances. The setting was the T.G.I. Friday's that once anchored Overton Square. And the book based on these portraits is 5 x 7 (Twin Palms Publishers; There's some signature color shots here too, but it's Eggleston's razor-sharp images in black and white that, thanks to Twin Palms, are the new focus of attention.

An essay in 5 x 7 by writer/filmmaker Michael Almereyda sets the scene: In 1973, in the wee small hours, and with Eggleston's friend Randall Lyon using a "bounce flash" to light the subjects, the photographer took a spontaneous approach and turned it to his advantage: night owls caught in the act — sometimes looking straight-face into the camera; sometimes off in their own thoughts — but captured, as Almereyda writes, with "laconic clarity." Then Almereyda summarizes the results — results that are trademark Eggleston: "The knowing simplicity, the deadpan irreverence, the imaginative treatment of mundane detail, the uncanny mix of slyness and sweetness, intimacy and detachment — it's all there in black and white" — images Elmereyda goes on to describe as still "joltingly fresh." And they are.

The images also serve as a corrective, if, back in 1976, you took John Szarkowski's word for it. He was the influential MoMA curator who wrote in William Eggleston's Guide that Eggleston was "perhaps never fully committed to black and white." Stranded in Canton, Eggleston's 30-hour, black-and-white video shot during the early '70s, contradicts that claim. 5 x 7 does too.

But leave it to Eggleston to recognize the full import of his work. Recalling a meeting with Szarkowski over these very nightclub photographs, Eggleston asked the curator, "Have you ever seen anything like these before?" Szarkowski: "No." Then Almereyda to Eggleston: "That's all he said?" Eggleston, with laconic clarity, to Almereyda: "I thought that was a lot."

The Writer Within

A chime sounds. Everybody's quiet. Then your assignment is: to write ... right off the top of your head, for the next two minutes, anything goes. And at the end of those two minutes, you can read aloud what you wrote. Talk about it. Hear from others. Rid yourself perhaps of your own worst enemy: your inner critic.

That was the case at a recent one-night writing workshop conducted by Valentine Leonard, Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Memphis and author in the spring of 2008 of Bergson-Deleuze Encounters: Transcendental Experience and the Thought of the Virtual (State University of New York Press).

But if that title sounds forbidding, Leonard is not. Last year, she left academia to focus on the creative life and entered into ... well, you name it.

In addition to conducting writing workshops, Leonard has taken to the stage as a member of the Our Own Voice theater troupe. She teaches guided meditation. She leads exercises in "past-life regression" and dream interpretation. Her goal, according to her Web site: "to create and communicate new, healing and empowering ways of seeing, feeling and thinking." And that includes drumming.

On Sundays in Overton Park, you can catch her playing in an Afro-Cuban drum circle, this after she studied Haitian voodoo drumming in Paris, the city where her family moved (from Lyon) when Leonard was 17 and where she began her college career in, of all things, pre-law. No surprise, she says, she "hated it," and no surprise, after teaching for three years in the philosophy department at the U of M, she saw that her opportunities in Memphis, a city she loves, were limited. Instead, as she puts it, "I wanted to explore creativity rather than talk about creativity."

You can do your own exploring too when Leonard, along with Diane Brandon, conducts a two-day workshop, "Exploring Your Creativity and Inner Voice," in Leonard's Midtown home on August 25th and 26th. To register or for more information, contact Valentine Leonard at or by phone at 239-9919.

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