London Trip – William Eggleston Exhibition at the Tate Modern. – (1 of 3) – 3 critical reflections on 3 discipline/ practitioner events. For example: exhibitions, SU or other society events, interviews, visiting speakers

William Eggleston - Chromes - 1976
William Eggleston – Chromes – 1976

On Monday 21st October we took a trip to the Tate Modern in London to see an exhibition of images by William Eggleston from his Chrome series.

Eggleston was born in Memphis Tennessee in 1939 and has dedicated his life to photographing it. However he differs from regular street photographers and possesses a singularly unique view on the world.

Although he got his first camera, a range finder at 18 then a Leica shortly afterwards it was his work taken around the early 70’s that we were going to see.

Photography has always proven to be controversial and Eggleston’s work certainly stirred a hornet’s nest. To be considered a serious artistic photographer in the 1970’s you had to shoot in black and white. This was the rule and Eggleston is widely credited for breaking it. It was not that he was trying to be contentious or artistic it was simply that he held a deep fascination with colours, this was the way we saw the world and it was this way that set out to show. In an interview with W Magazine he describes it himself.

“I wanted to see a lot of things in color because the world is in color. I was affected by it all the time, particularly certain times of the day when the sun made things really starkly stand out.“ – Belcove, J.L. (Nov 2008). William Eggleston at the Whitney Museum. [online] Available at <; [21st Oct 2013].

William Eggleston - Chromes - 1976
William Eggleston – Chromes – 1976

Not content with turning things are their head with his use of colour he also went one step further and where his peers were looking for that special moment on the streets where something unique happened Eggleston set about shooting anything that was mundane or commonplace.

When he came to printing his images he used a technique called dye transfer that was already considered old-fashioned and currently only used in the advertising business. It did however have the exceptional ability to produce the exciting colouring that he was looking for.

The result was a set of images that made you look deeply into them, searching to see the profundity in his vibrant colours, and often noticing how other objects contrast, not garish but with an interesting subtlety and it is here that you start to see the beauty in the dreary objects and scenes before you.

William Eggleston - Chromes - 1976
William Eggleston – Chromes – 1976

Despite some support when his work was first displayed it was met with derision by many of his fellow photographers and art critics, they were not used to seeing such work and dismissed it out of hand,

That MoMA’s curator of photography, John Szarkowski, had declared Mr. Eggleston’s work perfect was the last straw. “Perfectly banal, perfectly boring,” sniffed one writer; “erratic and ramshackle,” snapped another; “a mess,” declared a third. – Cotter, H.. (Nov 6th 2008). Old South Meets New in Living Color.Available: Last accessed 21st Oct 2013. 

However Eggleston was unfazed and his support slowly grew. Eventually most of his critics were forced to admit they were wrong and other photographers such as Martin Parr (The Last Resort) and Paul Graham (Beyond Caring) also began to embrace colour for their work. Even through there were always some corners of the photographic world that resisted this change it ultimately became the standard for contemporary images of this type.

William Eggleston - Chromes - 1976
William Eggleston – Chromes – 1976

Exhibition 2

The second exhibition I attended was in the heart of Mayfair on the famous Saville Row but rather than made to measure clothing this exhibition was tailored for wealthy art collectors. Located in an old Victorian building, access was gained through a vetted telecom system. Once inside I headed up to the top floor where I was greeted by a very pleasant lady who handed me a brochure/catalogue which listed all the exhibits with a little information about each followed by a price. As it turned out this was less an exhibition and more of an auction/sales room.

The majority of the show was taken up with photos by Tony Ray Jones and fell into the street photography category. Although Tony had worked in New York having graduated from university there all images were in the traditional black and white and shot in London.

In addition to Tony’s work there were a few images by Martin Parr and 1 image by Chris Killip. It was Killips image that was the star of the show and it came from his ‘In Flagrante’ series.

Chris Killip (1988) In Flagrante
Chris Killip (1988) In Flagrante

Chris Killip spent quite sometime documenting the struggle of a post industrialised working class town. This particular image was for sale at £8000 and represents the ability of the people who were so heavily effected by the social and political issues of the time that kept them trapped in their poverty ridden lives but rather than become depressed they find ways to make the best of what they have.


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