EGGLESTON, William; Untitled
Tennessee-born William Eggleston, known as the 'father of colour photography', radically changed the way colour photography came to be seen as an art form. He worked with this medium from the mid 1970s, when it was considered only in terms of its commercial or advertising use. His distinctive compositions are based on a working method he describes as a 'democratic camera'. Eggleston's street photography broke new ground as he experimented with the limitations of photographic film and developing processes to control fine detail and colour saturation in his re-presentations of the American South and the contemporary cultural landscape.
These three Untitled photographs were originally executed in 1974, but printed only recently. First exhibited in 2007, the works were shot on a large format 5x7 camera that Eggleston originally purchased to shoot nightclub scenes in black and white. They capture a fineness of detail not possible with a smaller format 35mm film stock.
The photographs are simply but formally composed. With dark backgrounds and single source lighting, they have the theatricality and staged composition of studio portraits. The photograph of the young girl portrays casualness, yet reveals self-consciousness. In terms of portraiture, pictorial conventions related to the depiction of feminine subjectivity are invoked — Barbara Kruger's Untitled (Your Gaze Hits the Side of My Face) 1981–83, as well as the demure smile of the Mona Lisa 1503–06, come to mind. A photograph of a young man with a pockmarked, lived-in-looking face seems to suggest a hard life. With soft lanky hair and an unmarred chest, he also resembles a 'Christ' figure, albeit one from the 1970s. The photograph of a middle-aged man is poignant; the subject is pictured as if between two worlds, at a turning point in his life. He is a compelling subject; small details such as the carefully ironed shirt and knotted tie evoke questions about his profession, his private life and his history.
Eggleston's strength as a picture-maker lies in his sensitivity to apparently ordinary scenes, which allow the audience to closely examine the nuances of everyday life. Eggleston employs the style of a snapshot to explore complex and subtle associations between subjects, viewpoints and stories. Seemingly ordinary subjects accumulate subtlety and gravity, especially in the eyes of Eggleston's carefully composed frame, and using only one exposure.
Naomi Evans, Artlines, no.3, 2008, pp.36–37.