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William Eggleston: 2¼ review

  • Art
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
William Eggleston 'Untitled' (c. 1977) © Eggleston Artistic Trust. Image courtesy of Eggleston Artistic Trust and David Zwirner
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Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

The title refers to inches: two and a quarter inches (stop sniggering at the back). Medium-format cameras use 2.25-inch square negatives. You can blow them up real big, and the quality is amazing. US photography legend William Eggleston isn’t usually associated with this format, but these pictures, taken in 1977 are as glowingly, troubling beautiful as any of his work, doused in a light that’s sweet and sickly as barbecue glaze.

Eggleston is known for his pioneering use of colour and imbuing banal everyday nothing scenes with atmospheric wonder. He takes Americana and gives it new meaning. A lot of the pictures here feature automobiles of some sort: after all, what’s more American than a shiny gas-guzzler? Eggleston must have spent most of ’77 hanging about in parking lots like some Southern gentleman twocker. An Oldsmobile crouches in the corner of a building like it’s taking a crafty piss; a Peterbilt truck cab faces you down; a scarlet pick-up opens its bonnet like a pelican’s bill. Look closer, though, and amid all this butch automobilia are uneasy portents: a Camaro suggestively presents its ass to the viewer in a litter-strewn lot, then you spot the ‘for sale’ sign in the rear window. A cherry Mustang is lit by magic-hour rays; in the distance, though, are Datsuns and Mazdas. When these photos were taken, America was in the throes of the oil crisis. For all their macho swagger, these muscle cars were the bison of the 1970s: their numbers dwindling, their territory encroached upon by less thirsty imports. I doubt the political big picture ever influenced any of Eggleston’s big pictures, but his images always make you look for answers, mainly cos they offer so few.

It’s almost a shock when a human appears, but some do. An old black man with weirdly large thumbs stands to attention, baggy pants cinched round his waist. A blonde girl poses inexplicably in the middle of a suburban street, wearing a rainbow-hooped sweater. Framed dead centre of the images, they’re ‘untitled’ – just like all the cars and trucks. The square format is not portrait or landscape: democratically, Eggleston treats the animate and inanimate the same, parts of an endless unspooling, opiated and woozy with light and weariness. It’s almost too much effort to engage with it all, yet you just can’t stop looking.

Chris Waywell
Written by
Chris Waywell

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