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William Eggleston: Memphis Man

By Francesca Moutafis on December 7, 2016 in Art, Design, Exhibitions, Industry Publicity
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Tender moments, eery self-portraits and saturated mundanity – forty years of Memphis through William Eggleston’s lens. 

A pioneer of the “dye-transfer” printing technique in the mid-1960’s, Eggleston has since been documenting life in his native Memphis, chronicling the changes faces and colours of the city. This revolutionary printing technique enabled Eggleston to ensue in photography intense saturated hues, unwavering over time. In 1976 he became the first photographer to solo exhibit colour photography at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, to harsh reviews and an unmoved audience. Today, however, he is distinguished amongst many as “The Godfather of colour photography”. Forty years later and, rumor has it, 1.5 million negatives later, Eggleston has established himself as a true veteran of photography.

His photography inadvertently catalogs the adapting trends, styles, and colours from Eggleston’s emergence in the 60’s to the present day. Bold floral sofas of the 60s and heady earth tones of the 70’s are later replaced by the clinical minimality of the 90’s. Take his prolific ‘red ceiling’ image and contrast it with it’s 1990 equivalent. The first a bare bulb hangs from a saturated inconsistent crimson ceiling, the second a white fan contrasts ever so slightly against a clean white ceiling. The palette is adapted but the mundanity of Eggleston’s subjects remain. 

Throughout his career Eggleston has remained unvexed by critical opinion, a frequent presence in the 1970’s Memphis club scene, he became acquainted with many of the eras prolific musicians. Such figures would have served as instrument for worldwide acclaim, accelerating his work into the public sphere and providing slight remittance from his condemned inaugural exhibition. But Eggleston has little interest in being celebrated for who he photographs: “I want to make a picture that could stand on its own, regardless of what it was a picture of. I’ve never been a bit interested in the fact that this was a picture of a blues musician or a street corner or something.”

His attitude is vehemently laissez-faire, each subject be it a shopping trolley; sofa; stop sign; or Joe Strummer, all hold equal measures of banality and importance, a self-defined “democratic way of looking around”. His work need not be questioned nor defined, everyday scenes framed by expert composition and a heavily saturated palette. 

More information on Eggleston’s work can be found at www.egglestontrust.com

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Francesca MoutafisView all posts by Francesca Moutafis