REVIEW: William Eggleston Portraits, National Portrait Gallery

Sharp, clinical but fascinating insight of how a photograph can really capture a moment effectively, thanks the work of American photographer William Eggleston. 

Untitled c.1975 (Marcia Hare in Memphis, Tennessee) by William Eggleston. (C) Eggleston Artistic Trust. 

This short and concise exhibition devoted to the work of William Eggleston isn’t so much a retrospective and overview of his career, but rather more focused on his techniques as an artist and creator of images.

Although many of the images displayed as part of the exhibition are of friends and family, many are also of strangers doing ordinary things or lost in contemplation of what is going on around them. The result? It gives a fascinating insight into the personalities and lives of the subjects – without being intrusive or unnatural.

Eggleston wasn’t primarily known as portrait artist, but people were very much central to the way in which he worked. Many of the images on display capture the life experience of subjects as well as the humanity and vulnerability.

Beginning in the 1960’s, when Eggleston first started taking photographs seriously, the display shows very early on the photographer’s ability to make the ordinary extraordinary by focusing on certain details whether it is the person’s expression or using lighting to great effect to make it more dramatic.

While Eggleston was primarily known for his colour photographs, his early black and white photographs are fascinating to look at in their own right, the starkness adding to the sense of mystery to the image. For the first time ever, many of the subjects have names with them, adding a sense of history and depth to the images.

But despite this, it is clear from the way in which the photographs were taken that Eggleston remained a professional distance, which can mean that they seem a bit clinical and emotionless – even the ones involving his family.

This is an exhibition that will appeal to those interested in discovering the techniques of photography and is more about that than the man himself, which could possibly leave some people feeling disappointed.

William Eggleston Portraits is on display at the National Portrait Gallery until the 23rd October. For more information and to book tickets visit:

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