Landmark show of at the MoMA in 1976
William Eggleston (b. 1939 – Memphis, Tennessee, US) is best known for his “snapshot” style, banal subjects and, most importantly, for being a pioneer of colour photography. Eggleston had a landmark show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1976, “as though the world itself existed in color” (John Szarkowski, Director of the Department of Photography).
Snapshot style in portraits = uncomposed and real life situations
The National Portrait Gallery in London displays his portrait photography in a compact exhibition of ~100 works. In my view, Eggleston’s snapshot style in his portraits emanates in uncomposed photographs and unprepared sitters. For instance, the sitters’ oily skin is shown in his portraits, the artist’s girlfriend crying, or the artist’s cousin consoling a friend – all are testimonies of real life situations.
Pioneer of colour photography and the dye transfer process
Eggleston was a pioneer of colour photography and most of his work has been in colour since the late 1960s. He was among the first to adopt the dye transfer process, marketed by Kodak since the 1930s. I enjoyed learning about the process. The original image is separated into three negatives: red, yellow and blue. It is then printed separately into transfer films and they are subsequently printed on top of each other.
Yellowish and Mad Men-looking images
Untitled from Los Alamos, 1965–68 and 1972–74 (published 2003). Private Collection. © Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy Cheim and Read, New York.
The dye transfer process results in yellowish images, which we use as filters today to post on social media and creating a certain ‘Mad Men’ atmosphere, I felt. The NPG exhibition was a revelation to my friend D. It made me want to learn more about Eggleston and I think I prefer his photographs of commonplace subjects over his portraits.
William Eggleston Portraits runs until 23 October 2016 at the National Portrait Gallery.