William Eggleston Portraits

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Take inspiration from the colourful world of iconic US photographer William Eggleston

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

If you loved the vibrant palette of dreamy primary hues in movie 'La La Land' – which recently garnered directing, cinematography and production design Oscars – you'll be seduced by new exhibition 'William Eggleston Portraits' at Melbourne's National Gallery of Victoria. A pioneer of colour photography, acclaimed mid-century US photographer Eggleston's suburban Americana images from the Sixties and Seventies are peppered with cars, diners, petrol stations, supermarkets and street life, inspiring filmmakers David Lynch, the Coen Brothers, Gus Van Sant and especially Sofia Coppola, as well as contemporary snappers Martin Parr and Juergen Teller.

ABOVE: 'Untitled (Memphis, Tennessee)', c. 1969-71, dye-transfer print, by 'the godfather of colour photography' William Eggleston

ABOVE: 'Untitled', c.1965-8, dye-transfer print, printed 2004

The moment I first set eyes on Eggleston's arresting images, I was blown away by his rare talent for capturing standout colour, even in casual, momentary snaps (he was famous for only ever taking one shot). From a cobalt blue dress to a ruby red car, patterned orange woman's blouse or girl's long auburn hair, Eggleston sees colour like a painter, giving his documentary images a stylised, choreographed air. But these photos of family, friends, acquaintances and strangers are drawn from everyday life, not an art directed shoot or stage-managed ad campaign, finding beauty in the banal. At a time when black-and-white photography was considered more highbrow, groundbreaking Eggleston also experimented with dye-transfer printing, a commercial technique that produces highly colour-saturated imagery.

ABOVE: 'Untitled', c.1965-9, pigment print, printed 2016
BELOW: Installation views of 'William Eggleston Portraits' at the National Gallery of Victoria, including 'Untitled', 1974 (Biloxi, Mississippi); 'Untitled', c.1975 (Marcia Hare in Memphis, Tennessee)

Direct from London's National Portrait Gallery, the exhibition is on show until 18 June as part of the NGV Festival of Photography, featuring more than 100 works by Memphis-born Eggleston (1939-), including evocative images of the American South and never-before-seen shots of actor Dennis Hopper and The Clash frontman Joe Strummer. The head-turning colour combinations, such as Yves Klein blue and lemon yellow, or retro red and white stripes, could even give you fresh ideas for revving up your home...

ngv.vic.gov.au
'William Eggleston Portraits' is free at NGV International, 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, until 18 June 2017

Pictures: All William Eggleston images copyright Eggleston Artistic Trust; Sean Fennessy (installation views)