William Eggleston Portraits surveys the career of the ground-breaking American artist who is regarded as a pioneer of colour photography. The exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, brings together more than 100 works, characterised by their vivid, poetic and enigmatic depiction of people in diners, petrol stations, phone booths and supermarkets. The display is part of the inaugural NGV Festival of Photography which runs in March 2017.
Pieces featured in the collection include Eggleston’s hypnotic portrayal of locals taken in towns across the American south, previously unseen images of The Clash frontman Joe Strummer and pictures of the actor Dennis Hopper that have never before been exhibited. A selection of monochrome vintage prints from the 1960s represent the artist’s home in Memphis, Tennessee, and the inspiration he finds in his native state. It is in this time period that Eggleston began experimenting with the different shades for which he became so recognised. The subsequent Colour Photographs (1976) display is heralded as a pivotal moment in the development of the medium as a contemporary art form, a landmark event that is widely credited with increasing recognition of the discipline.
Eggleston’s career began in 1957, using his family, friends and people he encountered in everyday life as his subjects, with a particular focus on Memphis. The depiction of the normal documents the way in which he found the exquisite in the everyday, an ideology which moved many contemporary practitioners, from photography to film, such as Martin Parr, Sofia Coppola, David Lynch and Juergen Teller. This show provides a unique window into the artist’s life, allowing viewers to see how public and private portraiture was combined to create pictures with both depth and beauty. Furthermore, it also reveals for the first time many of the identities of the subjects of the renowned images, which were previously anonymous.
Between 1960 and 1965 the practitioner worked exclusively in black and white, with candid subjects as a central focus. With this foundation, Eggleston increasingly depicted the Memphis night club scene in the 1970s, his fascination with this culture motivated the video Stranded in Canton, chronicling the metropolitan bars in Memphis, Mississippi and New Orleans. Alongside the film, also examined is his unique method of dye-transfer printing, a commercial method that produces high saturations of colour, a technique which resulted in some of Eggleston’s most vibrant photographs.
William Eggleston Portraits, 17 March-18 June, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. For more information: www.ngv.vic.gov.au
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1. William Eggleston Untitled 1965. Courtesy of NGV and Eggleston Artistic Trust.