Tag Archives: William Eggleston

Exhibition visit: William Eggleston ‘Portraits’ at the National Portrait Gallery, London

Previously reviewing William Eggleston (see here) as part of a wider focus on the impact of colour photography I have always respected his work but just had n’t appreciated the true of magnitude of his art. As we progress in our creative journey our critical understanding becomes more intuitive and we can gain a more effective framework from which to appreciate the exhibition.

As all the major reviews concluded William Eggleston is n’t necessarily known for his portraiture as the huge contribution that he has made to the development of colour photography and his interpretation of American suburbia and life in general overshadow the significant interest that Eggleston had in featuring and portraying people. But this exhibition shows that his work was much more complete than perhaps even he has been given credit for in this respect.

There are approximately 100 images of both black and white and colour portraits of varying sizes from experimental 6×4 images to traditional large-format gallery wall style classics detailing a career last over 30 years.

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Figure 1: Untitled, William Eggleston 1969-71

What I immediately noticed in the exhibition was just how many variations there were in how Eggleston framed his subjects. In today’s world of computer screen and TV screen vision the world is seen through a landscape view. Eggleston’s use of the portrait view was really interesting and I will try to develop this into my own work going forward.

The subjects of William Eggleston’s images are varied including everybody from close contacts, family and friends through to strangers on the streets of Memphis the area that the majority of Eggleston’s career centred around.

Equally noticeable is the variety of locations that Eggleston made images around; gas stations, offices, hotel rooms, diners, airports, people crossing the road, in their own homes and garages, lying down in fields, parked down dusty farm lanes. Some subjects are posed, some are candid shots and clearly without their subjects’ prior permission; all captured with a range of technical considerations whether that be considerations of lighting, the time of day or depth of field.

What was most significant from this exhibition was the sheer coherence of such wide-ranging and varied collection of images taken over several decades representing a true body of work. Eggleston has his personal mark across every image and it was truly fantastic to make this realisation.

Lots of the images I had n’t seen before although there were plenty of classic Eggleston compositions such as the older woman sitting in the garden on the easy couch occupying centre stage in the middle of one the gallery end walls. The subject was Devoe Money from Jackson, Mississippi who was a distanced relative to Eggleston’s mother. Accompanying the image was a short caption of a personal text taken from William Eggleston really illuminating the human element within the image.

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Figure 2: Untitled, William Eggleston (1970)

The text read, “She was a swell, wonderful person, very smart too, she was not a rich lady. She did n’t inherit a lot, I remember she was active in the little theatre but there’s no money in that.” (1970).

A image that I have seen many times before in books and on the internet was seen in a completely different light when hung as a large-scale picture in a major gallery in all of it’s glory and completely brought to life by a short 35 word text caption.

I truly enjoyed seeing this picture with the natural sunlight casting shadows and illuminating deep saturated colours, a light reflection shown in the spectacles of Devoe Money. Eggleston’s use of depth of field completely throwing out the background detail focussing the viewer’s eye centrally on the subject, the picture was so perfect it was inspiring. When I have seen this image before I had n’t really given it a second look but now I felt that Devoe Money could be one of my own mother’s distant relatives.

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Figure 3: Untitled, William Eggleston, (circa 1975)

Another classic picture shown was the untitled image of Marcia Hare, Memhis, Tennessee c1975; the famous picture of the young woman lying in the grass where Eggleston’s use of depth of field effectively throws the entire scene out of focus except the young woman’s head and shoulders. The picture demonstrates a fantastic complexity in what was a very simple situation.

Throughout the exhibition there are so many examples where Eggleston just seems to make the perfect decision which of course is the outcome of complete technical mastery coupled with genuine vision which when brought together create works of significant art.

There is also an excellent image taken in 1973 of Eggleston’s wife Rosa who is lying asleep on the bed with the small black and white TV left showing a programme in the corner of the room. Rosa is under a yellow duvet colour which matches the yellow shoe-holder which is fixed to the inside of a door that presumably Eggelston has left open so that it can take up the perfectly positioned space in the frame 1/3 in from the left-hand border side; it’s just so perfect! This just emphasised that we must always strive for interest and improvement in our own compositions.

William Eggleston’s influence is truly vast and references of his work can be found in many significant artists from the 1970s and 1980s whether they be Stephen Shore or individuals from other mediums such as film director David Lynch; The interpretations and subject matter that Eggleston chose are now so familiar to us as his approach became stylised to the point that it became the de facto iconic mass media image of everyday America. This can be seen in the iconic image below of his uncle pictured with his assistant. The image appears as a commentary on class and race in America but seems to be so familiar that it could be  frozen from any number of cinema films from the period.

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Figure 4: Untitled William Eggleston (1976)

Featuring the portraits of William Eggleston gave a fresh dimension to an already truly respected photographer who seems to have had to work harder for his reputation than other photographers of his generation. This was perhaps the first major sole exhibition that I have attended of one of the genuinely influential photographers and the impact has been marked in terms of my own motivation to improve my own standards.

Finally having started to think a lot more about the presentation of work it was interesting to note the hanging arrangements which avoided a standard linear presentation by mixing and varying the proximity and positioning of images within the confines of the gallery wall.

This made for a fluid interpretation of the work as the eye was drawn to specific images before the brain switched back to the whole cluster and the presentation of the wall as a whole. The images were mounted and hung in white-coated frames which looked very minimalist against the white gallery wall giving the image it’s maximum impact. The positioning of the lighting I assumed was quite standard set from above so as to avoid glare on the glass of the framed images.

Bibliography

Eggleston, W (1971), William Eggleston’s Guide. Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, (2007) New York.

William Eggleston Portraits exhibition (2016) at the National Portrait Gallery, London can be seen online at: http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/eggleston/exhibition.php

List of images

All images were taken between 1969 and 1976 and are untitled, by Eggleston, W

Figure 1: http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/late-shift-1/in-conversation-29092016.php

Figure 2: http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/eggleston/exhibition.php

Figure 3: http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/eggleston/exhibition.php

Figure 4: http://www.americansuburbx.com/artists/william-eggleston

(All images accessed 29 August 2016)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photography in colour: William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Martin Parr

 

colorama

Photograph installed as a 60-foot-long image in New York’s Grand Central Station as an advertisement for Kodak.

Inconsistencies in the quality of film had hampered the use of colour in challenging black and white for the mantle of the format of choice for the serious photographer. This was further exacerbated when early advertising and commercial photographers began to use colour undermining the artistic credentials of colour photography.

In 1967 John Szarkowski’s ‘New Documents’ exhibition (MoMA, New York) sent out a message that photo-documentary had developed from a voice for social reform into a more personalised and subjective perspective. As part of this development certain photographers such as William Eggleston and Stephen Shore began to experiment and use colour film to make images as a departure from black and white, the then traditional format of documentary and art photography. (Bull, S 2005).

Photographers and artists in America were trying to make sense of the impact of capitalism and consumerism to understand how people and places were being affected and they started to parody the colourful world of mass consumerism and major corporations.

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William Eggleston

Originally inspired by the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank William Eggleston became an early pioneer of colour photography creating his images of American life in the 1960’s and 70s. Eggleston’s style of photographing the ordinary as oppose the extraordinary was a departure from the concept of ‘the decisive moment’ and inspired a generation of photographers such as Stephen Shore.

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Stephen Shore, Uncommon Places, 1975

Stephen Shore hadn’t followed a particularly conventional route through University but had been resident in Andy Warhol’s factory from 1965-1969 and developed an interest in consumerism and the commercial world.

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Stephen Shore, Uncommon Places, 1974

Shore embarked upon marathon road trips across America making images of what he saw and found. The early influences of Eggleston can be found in Stephen Shore’s work American Surfaces where he made photographs of the meals that he ate, the motel rooms that he stayed in, the shop windows that he gazed through and the people that he encountered. His work adopted the look and feel of the ‘snapshot’ and Shore even used a Kodak lab to produce his final images to maintain this concept. However the images were anything but snapshots as they held up a mirror to American.

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Stephen Shore, Uncommon Places, 1973

His next major work was Uncommon Places which was again images taken on American road trips but this time his style had developed by using a large format camera which assisted in the process of creating fantastically composed and detailed images of the American way of life, petrol stations, cark parks, streets, shops and open roads with some people.

I find the work of Stephen Shore’s Uncommon Places really interesting, the compositions are so perfect and aesthetically pleasing that viewing the image feels as if it would be a better experience that seeing the scene with my own eyes! Perfect landscape photography technique with absolute clarity and detail throughout the images.

He uses so many techniques so brilliantly, how he sees shape and builds up a perfect composition almost layer by layer. How he uses telegraph poles and cables to create frames within rules of composition echoing renaissance period paintings whilst creating his own signature. I found the work genuinely inspiring and with Susan Sontag in mind Shore’s work makes us believe that “everything exists to end up in a photograph”. (Sontag. S 1970), well a Stephen Shore photograph.

Martin Parr

A prolific photographer of people and places from the 1970s to the present day who has had a major influence on photography through his use of vivid colour and his personal style of documentary. Parr cites Tony Ray Jones as a major influence and Jones’ work inspired Parr to record a ‘British way of life’ as Parr observed in his post Polytechnic days, which seemed to be fast disappearing.

Tony Ray Jones worked both in the UK and in America in the 1960s and 70s and as such acts as a fusion and bridge between British and American documentary photography. Parr established himself in the North of England after his studies in Manchester. Whilst born in comfortable Surrey Parr’s grandfather, a keen amateur photographer came from Yorkshire and he had gifted a teenage Parr his first Kodak camera.

Parr’s first major project was life around the declining town and surrounding villages of Hebden Bridge and in particular the non conformist chapels of the Methodist Church of which his father and grandfather had been active within and had therefore acted as a backdrop to Parr’s early life. His images were predominantly in black and white and were infused with empathy and where appropriate an intelligent humour.

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Martin Parr, taken from The Cost of Living 

As Britain in the 1980s took off so did Parr’s career and his photography, influenced by the likes of William Eggleston, Steven Shore and Joel Meyerowitz, developed into vivid colour images capturing what Parr regarded as the impact and effects of the Thatcher Government. In projects such as New Brighton and The Cost of Living, Parr depicts working and middle-classes as the country drives towards a lifestyle influenced by mass culture, capitalism, and consumerism.

scoffing-martin_parr

Martin Parr

Martin Parr’s style of documenting his subject matter was a major influencing factor in the development from a mainly empathetic style towards a more aggressive form where the photographer invites the viewer to join him in observing if not judging their efforts at incorporating the conventions of modern life.

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Martin Parr taken from The Last Resort

Parr’s personal perspective on these factors are clear in his images as he begins to introduce humour, irony and satire which become excruciating for the subjects of his images and which are perhaps a combination of Parr’s own personality and his reflections on what people and society had become.

Martin Parr’s style has become a mainstream influence on street photography even to this day and has assisted in elevating photography to a critically acclaimed status in the UK, a country which has trailed behind other Western countries such as America in it’s respect for the medium.

Reference List

Bajac, Q(2010). Parr by Parr, Quentin Bajac meets Martin Parr. London: Thames and Hudson.

Bull, S (2010). Photography. Abingdon: Routledge

Eggleston, W (1971), William Eggleston’s Guide. Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, (2007).

Shore, S (2005). American Surfaces. Reprinted in paperback, 2008. London: Phaidon

Shore, S (1982), Uncommon Places. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Szarkowski, J. (1967), ‘New Documents’ taken from exhibition press release which can be read in full at

http://www.moma.org/momaorg/shared/pdfs/docs/press_archives/3860/releases/MOMA_1967_Jan-June_0034_21.pdf (accessed 7/02/2016)

Images taken from

Kodak image:
http://www.howdesign.com/how-design-blog/color-inspiration-kodak-colorama/ (accessed 27/02/2016)

Eggleston, W image:
https://portlandartmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/William-Eggleston-New-Dyes-Boy.jpg (accessed 27/02/2016)

Parr, M images:
http://richflintphoto.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/profile-martin-parr.html (accessed 27/02/2016)

Shore, S images:
http://www.vincentborrelli.com/pages/books/105731/stephen-shore/uncommon-places-photographs-by-stephen-shore-limited-edition-with-vintage-original-type-c-print (accessed 2702/2016)