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First museum exhibition devoted to the portraits of William Eggleston opens
Untitled, 1970-74 (Dennis Hopper) by William Eggleston. © Eggleston Artistic Trust.

LONDON.- A previously unseen image of The Clash frontman Joe Strummer and a never-before exhibited portrait of the actor and photographer Dennis Hopper are being displayed for the first time in the National Portrait Gallery this summer. They are included in the first museum exhibition devoted to the portraits of pioneering American photographer, William Eggleston.

William Eggleston Portraits (21 July to 23 October) brings together over 100 works by the American photographer, renowned for his vivid, poetic and mysterious images of people in diners, petrol stations, phone booths and supermarkets.

Widely credited with increasing recognition for colour photography, following his own experimental use of dye-transfer technique, Eggleston is being celebrated by a retrospective of his full career, including a selection of never-before seen vintage black and white photographs from the 1960s taken in and around the artist’s home in Memphis, Tennessee.

The first major exhibition of Eggleston’s photographs in London since 2002 and the most comprehensive of his portraits, William Eggleston Portraits features family, friends, musicians and actors including rarely seen images of Eggleston’s own close relations. It provides a unique window on the artist’s home life, allowing visitors to see how public and private portraiture came together in Eggleston’s work. It also reveals, for the first time, the identities of many sitters who have until now remained anonymous.

Other highlights include monumental, five foot wide prints of the legendary photographs of the artist’s uncle, Adyn Schuyler Senior, with his assistant Jasper Staples in Cassidy Bayou, Mississippi and Devoe Money in Jackson, Mississippi from the landmark book Eggleston’s Guide (1976).

Since first picking up a camera in 1957, Eggleston’s images have captured the ordinary world around him and his work is said to find ‘beauty in the everyday’. His portrayal of the people he encountered in towns across the American South, and in Memphis in particular, is shown in the context of semi-public spaces.

Between 1960 and 1965, Eggleston worked exclusively in black and white and people were Eggleston’s primary subject, caught unawares while going about ordinary tasks. In the 1970s, Eggleston increasingly frequented the Memphis night club scene, developing friendships and getting to know musicians and artists. His fascination with club culture resulted in the experimental video ‘Stranded in Canton’, a selection of which is on view at the exhibition. ‘Stranded in Canton’ chronicles visits to bars in Memphis, Mississippi and New Orleans.

Eggleston’s 1976 show at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, is considered a pivotal moment in the recognition of colour photography as a contemporary art form. His work has inspired many present day photographers, artists and filmmakers, including Martin Parr, Sofia Coppola, David Lynch and Juergen Teller.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘William Eggleston makes memorable photographic portraits of individuals – including friends and family, musicians and artists – that are utterly unique and highly influential. More than this, Eggleston has an uncanny ability to find something extraordinary in the seemingly everyday. Combining well-known works with others previously unseen, this exhibition looks at one of photography’s most compelling practitioners from a new perspective.’

Curator Phillip Prodger, Head of Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery says, ‘Few photographers alive today have had such a profound influence on the way photographs are made and seen as William Eggleston. His pictures are as fresh and exciting as they were when they first grabbed the public’s attention in the 1970s. There is nothing quite like the colour in an Eggleston photograph – radiant in their beauty, that get deep under the skin and linger in the imagination.’

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July 25, 2016

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