Tag Archives: Eggleston

The last Tycoon

Photo by William Eggleston.

Yesterday, Saturday, my wife and I visited London to see the William Eggleston Exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery and then go on to see a play.

The weather was warm but wet however, this didn’t dampen our day.  On arrival to Trafalgar square, I mistakenly went in to The National Gallery and after a quick scout around asked a member of staff where the William Eggleston exhibition was.  The young lady gave me a look that one would have expected to get from the head waiter at Simpsons when asked for a Big Mac and fries.  She politely and a little condescendingly informed me that I was in the wrong gallery and directed me around the corner for The National Portrait Gallery.

As I walked around the corner and entered The National Portrait Gallery, I noted that it is all part of the same building but separated and given a side entrance.  Unconsciously perhaps placing portraiture in it’s considered place in the hierarchy of Art.

Photo by William Eggleston, this eligant but prim woman sits legs crossed next to a post wrapped in chain and pad-locked.  The post appears to act like a metaphor you can look bot can’t touch!

Anyhow, having found the exhibition we enjoyed Eggleston’s mixture of black-and-white and colour photos of mostly friends and family.  Some of the pictures on display were seen for the very first time as they had come from his private collection.  Also there was a display of some of Eggleston’s video work that he had made in the early 70’s a genre that I was unaware that he has worked in.  His pictures and video was of his life in Mississippi and it was clear from his images that he is a very good observer a talent that I have always had myself but only now with this photography degree course can I see a real use for it and have a reason to develop it further.  This exhibition was about his portraiture based work and had interesting details about his subjects, such as the dentist who had lost his practice through his use of drugs and later died in suspicious circumstances; his road trip with Dennis Hopper; his friends and neighbors, etc.

Photo by William Eggleston.

This image Eggleston describes as his first attempt  with colour and pleased with it’s success that he felt worked continued.  I agree the low sun from the sun-set or sunrise gives this young man’s skin tomes a very warm hue.  I like the shadow that repeats, yet with what is probably Eggleston’s shadow it also suggests another narrative.  The lady in the corner also works for a triangular formed composition.

My personal favorite photo was of a girl he photographed in black-and-white in a local night club who was clearly had at least one too many.  (Didigiat image unavailable)

Eggleston’s Grand-father with his man-servant at a funeral, photographed by William Eggleston.

I note that many photographers that are recognized in the art world are from privileged or fairly affluent backgrounds, naturally photography is not a cheap past time and for it helps to mix in the right circles in order to get interesting pictures in sometimes exotic locations.  Eggleston is no exception, from a wealthy family background he has been fortunate enough to have the support and subject matter to tap in to.

Following on from this exhibition we ended the day enjoying a good play about a 30’s film producer, called ‘The Last Tycoon’ The play reminded me of my exhibition and the title reminded me of the photo of Eggleston’s Grand-father with his man-servant who is unconsciously mimicking his boss’ pose.

Research point – What difference does colour make to a genre that traditionally was predominantly black and white?

The medium of photography began with the development of the monochrome / black and white image and for decades photographers honed their skills learning how to work with a very limited pallet of only shades of grey.  However, photographers quickly realized that black and white could produce stunning images and could exaggerate a sense of atmosphere that normal colour vision could not.  The portraits of the Hollywood stars of the 30’s and 40’s are a good illustration on the power of black and white.

When colour photography first came in to being it was a costly process and did not really take off until the cost of film and development fell in the late 1950’s.  At this time established photographers were reluctant to start working in the new medium.  I suggest that this was partly due to being nervous about moving out of a familiar and tried and tested photographic field in to a new area that was also gaining a reputation for amateur ‘snappers’.  Professionals with reputations may have found this intimidating and threatening and at that time colour theory was still a mystery kept and only practised by the painters in the art world.  However, in the film industry colour had been in regular use since the late 1930’s and interestingly one of the great pioneers of colour film photography was a keen painter who enjoyed making copies of famous masters for his home and to understand how they were made.  I refer to the British cameraman and film director Jack Cardiff who was the first British cameraman trained to operate the Technicolor movie cameras.  I would recommend watching some of Cardiff’s films of the 1940’s to see some good examples of how Cardiff understood both lighting and colour: ‘The Red Shoes’, ‘Black Narcissus’, A ‘Matter of Life and Death’ to name just a few.

William Eggleston has been credited as the photographer who made colour photography excepted in the photographic world of fine art when John Szarkowski, )Director of Photography of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City) discovered him and his work.

Black and white works to simplify an image creating a sense of past tense something that happened, an event, a ‘moment’.

Colour adds a new dynamic, if used well, it can add impact, by using colour theory and with the right combination on colours an interesting composition can be created from something ordinary and bland.  We see in colour; and strong colours have impact on our senses and with this in mind, interesting and attention grabbing photographs can be found.