If you visit just one photography exhibition this year then make it the latest William Eggleston collection: Portraits.
Eggleston is rightly touted as the pioneer of colour photography – helping it to be recognised and legitimised as a true art form at a time when the medium was dominated by black and white work. Colour was considered almost vulgar and his debut at MOMA in New York in 1976 was criticised as "snapshot chic."
This exhibition comprises over 100 portraits taken predominantly between the mid-1960s and early 1970s, across Mississippi and Tennessee. It is a collection that characteristically embraces the mundane but illustrates Eggleston's mastery of natural light and commitment to colour in the most ordinary of scenes.
Coupled with the vintage fashion, classic cars, and hairstyles, these photographs convey so perfectly a sense of time and place. A personal favourite is the shot of Marcia Hare, lying on a field and bathed in golden sunlight with her long red hair, parched brown patches of grass, and fine orange details on her dress. You can feel the warmth of the southern summer evening.
And this evocative imagery is present throughout. Another standout is the shot of a young boy pushing trolleys at the supermarket. His chiselled features and quiff of blonde hair are illuminated by a shard of sunlight. On an overcast day it would be a forgettable shot. But Eggleston’s eye turns the subject into someone resembling a young Hollywood star.
The other enjoyable aspect about Eggleston’s work - in this exhibition and generally - is the American symbolism that is subtly littered throughout: diners, motels, shopping marts, markets, gas stations. It is a romanticised view of the 1960s and 1970s but it gives a wonderful and immediate insight into the era.
Whether you are already familiar with Eggleston or not, this is a superb exhibition that gets to the heart of the simple elements that can turn a forgettable photograph into a great one, regardless of what you are shooting.
Without question, it is the best photography exhibition I have attended this year.
Portraits is currently on at the National Portrait Gallery in London and runs until 23rd October 2016. Photographs © William Eggleston Artistic Trust.