Review by Rebecca Lewin
As the collection of prints currently on display at Victoria Miro makes clear, William Eggleston continues to produce photographs of surprising beauty and impressive formal composition. His output at seventy is evidently still prolific and although it is possible to detect a shift towards more abstract compositions, the subject matter of this group of photographs is also familiar - the extraordinary discovered in the everday. A bathroom, a kitchen, a skyscape and water on a dirt track should simply describe mundane moments, but under Eggleston’s hand they become poignant, fleeting observations on the condition of living.
Eggleston is often credited with the introduction of colour film to art photography and in particular with championing the technique of dye-transfer prints outside of commercial photography. In his loyalty to this particular printing technique Eggleston emphasises the present-ness of the photograph in a manner that seems to put Cartier-Bresson’s famous maxim into practice; ‘[the photograph is] an immediate sketch, done with intuition and you can’t correct it. If you have to correct it, it’s the next picture’Life is once, forever, and new all the time.’
To some extent it is the artistry involved in this special printing process that has a transformative effect on Eggleston’s subjects, but this is by no means the only affective trope of his photography. The wit involved in the composition often captures objects within the frame in such incongruous couplings that it is almost as though we have caught them doing things they oughtn’t. In UNTITLED (CUSHION, PURPLE WALL, GRAFFITI, MEMPHIS), 2007, two mattresses slump nonchalantly against a wall that, with a little imagination, they might have been responsible for spray-painting. UNTITLED (FREEZER WITH ICE BAGS, KENTUCKY, 2000 shows bags of ‘Purity Party Ice’ stacked up inside a freezer that has bacteria-like bulges of ice growing inside it. Most comic of all, perhaps, is the UNTITLED (SANTA CLAUS ON WINDOW, MEMPHIS), 2004, where Santa himself hovers unexpectedly in a bright blue sky. It is Eggleston who has the last laugh, however; as we contemplate the photographer’s clever composition two small sets of initials become visible in the bottom right-hand corner. Someone else has signed the artwork for him.
Touches such as these can be found in many of the prints in this exhibition, and it is clear that Eggleston does not appear to be interested in narrative; it is up to us to notice as much or as little as we are inclined to do.
Victoria Miro has made the excellent decision of doing the least amount possible to display these pieces; white walls, white frames and off-white mounts whisper so quietly that you almost fail to notice the gaps between the images. The gap between what we see from day to day and what Eggleston sees might be fractional, but this exhibition shows that he is still able to prove that the desolate, the aging and the kitsch are capable of inordinate beauty.
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