The Rebel Who Revolutionised Photography

July 2016Words by Mr Stuart Husband

Untitled, 1970 – 4 (Dennis Hopper) by Mr William Eggleston. Photograph © Eggleston Artistic Trust. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London

“A picture is what it is,” Mr William Eggleston once said, and in the case of Mr Eggleston’s own pictures – super-saturated colour shots of rusty tricycles, light fixtures, car parks and freezers packed with food – the seemingly mundane is charged with a heightened mystery and unease. He’s perhaps the most influential photographer of the past half-century, and his surreal-banal aesthetic has inspired everyone from film directors Messrs David Lynch and Gus Van Sant to fellow photographers like Mr Juergen Teller, Ms Nan Goldin and Mr Martin Parr, and even musicians such as Primal Scream and Big Star.

Untitled, 1970 (self-portrait), by Mr William Eggleston. Photograph © Eggleston Artistic Trust. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London

Now, Mr Eggleston is getting the blockbuster treatment, with the opening of a show of his portraits at London’s National Portrait Gallery. These are far from traditional character studies; whether they’re celebrities like Mr Dennis Hopper or members of Mr Eggleston’s own family, like his uncle Mr Adyn Schuyler Senior (pictured with his assistant, Mr Jasper Staples), they remain as enigmatic and disconcerting as the desolate diners and windswept bayous they’re often photographed in, like actors in a southern Gothic melodrama of Mr Eggleston’s own making.