The first international museum exhibition devoted to portraits by pioneering American photographer William Eggleston, renowned for his evocative images of people in diners, petrol stations, phone booths and markets, is currently at the National Portrait Gallery, London.
I want to make a picture that could stand on its own, regardless of what it was a picture of.” William Eggleston
Widely credited with increasing recognition for colour photography after his experimental use of dye-transfer techniques, this retrospective celebrates Eggleston’s life and photographic career. Since first picking up a camera in 1957 Eggleston has captured scenes of the ordinary world around him and his work is said to ‘find beauty in the everyday’. His portrayal of people he encountered in towns across the American South, Memphis in particular, is shown in a context of semi-public spaces. Between 1960 to 1965 (when he discovered Cartier-Bresson) Eggleston worked exclusively in black-and-white. People were his primary subject, caught unawares in daily life.
Eggleston’s photographs are special for their eccentric, unexpected compositions, playfulness, implied narrative and above all, his portrayal of people. Over the past half-century he has created a powerful and enduring body of work featuring friends and family, musicians, artists and others.” Philip Prodger, Curator
Rarely seen portraits of his own relations offer a unique window on Eggleston’s home life whilst allowing visitors to see how public and private portraiture came together in his work. Identities of anonymous sitters are revealed and vintage black-and-white photographs taken in the 1960s at the artist’s home in Memphis, Tennessee (where he was born in July 1939) are on view. Highlights include a previously unseen image of The Clash frontman Joe Strummer and a never-before exhibited portrait of actor/photographer Dennis Hopper. A massive five foot wide print of the artist’s uncle Adyn Schuyler Senior with his assistant Jasper Staples in Cassidy Bayou, Mississippi, is a famous image from his landmark book William Eggleston’s Guide (1976).
In the 1970s Eggleston frequented the Memphis club scene, developing friendships and getting to know musicians like Ike Turner and Alex Chilton. His fascination with club culture led to the experimental video ‘Stranded in Canton’ (2005) which chronicles his visits to bars in Memphis, Mississippi and New Orleans. At the same time, he met and photographed the likes of Dennis Hopper, Eudora Welty and Walter Hopps and briefly entered the Warhol Factory scene, dating Warhol protégée Viva.
Eggleston’s 1976 show at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, is considered a pivotal moment in the recognition of colour photography as a contemporary art form. His work has inspired many present day photographers, artists and film makers, including Martin Parr, Sofia Coppola, David Lynch and Juergen Teller.
Says Curator Philip Prodger:
Few photographers alive today have had such a profound influence on the way photographs are made and seen as William Eggleston. His pictures are as fresh and exciting as they were when they first grabbed the public’s attention in the 1970s. There is nothing quite like the colour in an Eggleston photograph – radiant in their beauty, they get deep under the skin and linger in the imagination.”
Need to Know: William Eggleston Portraits, The National Portrait Gallery London, 21 July – 23 October 2016, Australia: William Eggleston Portraits exhibition organised by NPG with support from the artist and Eggleston Artistic Trust will tour the National Gallery Victoria, Melbourne (March – June 2017).