William Eggleston. Untitled, (Morton, Mississippi), c1972. © Eggleston Artistic Trust.
Hayward Gallery, London
11 July – 22 September 2002
by ROBERT JOHNSTON
Before Eggleston, colour photography had scarcely been taken seriously as an art form, and one can imagine the sensation his images caused at his first major exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1976. Colours are saturated, intense; his human subjects unposed; traditional ideas of ‘composition’ abandoned.
Now, we are familiar with the artistic depiction of the mundane and ‘trivial’ and the deliberate — often painstaking — simulation of chaos and confusion, in everything from fashion photography (such as heroin chic) to contemporary conceptual art (most infamously, Tracey Emin’s bed). Twenty-five years ago these ideas were revolutionary and, looking back, it is possible that Eggleston is the, uncredited, inspiration for much of the output of the YBAs and many of the glossy pages of fashion magazines.
Eggleston photographs an elderly man, casually holding a gun while sitting on a bed in a cheap motel. The vivid colour of his shirt jumps out at you; the longer you look at him, the more sinister the image appears. I was forcibly reminded of the gun violence in the United States and how the most innocuous individuals commit some of the most incomprehensible crimes.
A young girl lies, eyes closed, arms outstretched, on bright green grass; down the middle of her dress is row of blood red buttons that could be bullet holes.
William Eggleston. Untitled, 1975. Dye-transfer print. © Eggleston Artistic Trust.
A bare light bulb site in the centre of a dark red ceiling that meets dark red walls. In the corner of the picture is a small part of a poster demonstrating sexual positions … a brothel?
William Eggleston. The Red Ceiling, Greenwood, Mississippi, 1973. Dye transfer print, 35.2 × 55.1 cm (13.9 in × 21.7 in). Getty Center; Museum of Modern Art. © Eggleston Artistic Trust.
In a wood, a large 60s American car stands, door open. By its side is a middle aged white man in a suit; behind him, a black man in a servant’s uniform. The image speaks of the American South and attitudes to race that persist well into the present day.
William Eggleston. Untitled (Sumner, Mississippi, Cassidy Bayou in background), 1971. © Eggleston Artistic Trust.
There are more than 200 images in this exhibition, taken individually many could be dismissed as simply ‘snapshots’ — as they were at their original exhibition. In totality, however, they constitute a coherent analysis of an unseen America; the real America, rarely seen by tourists or portrayed on television; the America — and Americans — not included in the ‘American Dream.’
Bill Brandt: A Centenary Retrospective
Two parallel exhibitions of the work of the greatest British 20th century photographer provide a timely retrospective of two sides of Brandt.
Guy Bourdin at the V&A. Fashion photography as art
In the 1970s, fashion seemed to be at its lowest ebb. The 60s, when London was the style capital of the world, had passed; yet to come were the 80s and 90s when fashion would replace radical politics and rock & roll as the prime manifestations of youth culture.
Keith Arnatt: I'm a Real Photographer
Currently exhibiting at the Photographers' Gallery, Arnatt's work focuses mainly on images of waste. But in the spirit of John Cage, who emancipated extraneous sounds, the traffic hum or police siren, allowing them to intermingle with the sounds of violins and the like, Arnatt attends, through the lens, to things that have been forgotten, left, thrown away, discarded or orphaned.
Diane Arbus: Revelations
Diane Arbus's first retrospective exhibit in 1972 - several months after her suicide - shocked the public while mythologising the artist. Over 100 photographs celebrating her range of subjects, from drag queens, wealthy families and Jewish giants to the mentally ill, were lovingly selected by three of her closest companions: her daughter, Doon; her friend, Marvin Israel; and her biggest advocate, John Szarkowski.
Nobuyoshi Araki: Araki: Self, Life, Death
More than any other exhibition in recent memory, 'Araki: Self, Life, Death' comes closest to an unmediated glimpse inside the artist's mind. Since his teens, in the 1950s, Araki has never been without a camera; he uses more than 40 rolls of film a day and has recorded everything: from the immense changes in the Tokyo neighbourhood where he grew up to the prolonged illness and death of his wife.