Would you rather go deaf or blind?
Looking at the photographs of William Eggleston, you know the answer. His work exults in seeing: colour, shade, the way sunlight moves.
A Memphis native, Eggleston found majesty everywhere. Anywhere. His pictures, which are currently on display at a career-spanning National Portrait Gallery show, catapult you straight into the slow rhythm of an erstwhile American South.
Eggleston was a flâneur. He chose his subjects spontaneously, catching them unaware, never imposing a narrative. Diners, gas stations, Old Timers on the Bayou, club-kids, mechanics, friends, a lover in the grass. Ordinary unremarkable stuff. “There is no particular reason to search for meaning”, he said.
Eggleston's Untitled, c1970, Devoe Money in Jackson, Mississippi © Eggleston Artistic Trust
In the 60s, Eggleston worked in black and white - all serious photographers did - and you'll see these early images at the start of the show.
He looked to Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose formalist, monochromatic portraits were the definition of fine photography.
The use of colour cheapened photos. It was preserve of the crass Ad-Man, "prejudicing the achievement of life and movement", as Cartier-Bresson said. Robert Frank assured the world that "the colours of photography are black and white".
William Eggleston, Biloxi, Mississippi, 1972 © Eggleston Artistic Trust
In the mid-60s, though, Eggleston began experimenting with colour. By the end of the decade he was almost exclusively using chromatic film. His '76 MoMA solo show was a historic moment: it legitimised colour-photography as a Fine Art form.
When you're standing in front of an Eggleston picture, the heightened, frenzied palette takes you straight to some tiny stolen 50 year-old moment, somewhere in the Deep South. The result is pure poetry. Walking out of the gallery, you look around. The world's suddenly full of magic.
|What||William Eggleston portraits|
|Where||National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place, London, WC2H 0HE | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Charing Cross (underground)|
21 Jul 16 – 23 Oct 16, Opening hours Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday: 10.00 – 18.00, Late Opening: Thursday, Friday: 10.00 – 21.00
|Price||£Including voluntary donation: Adult: £8/Concessions: £6.50 Standard price: Adult: £7 /Concessions: £5.50|
|Website||Click here for more information|