Images © William Eggleston
No list would be complete without William Eggleston, referred to by some as the ‘Godfather of Colour’ and a pivotal figure in helping turn colour photography into a legitimate artistic medium. He first started experimenting with colour negative film in the mid-1960s – something that until then had been seen as crass and clichéd, more the medium of the advertising world than a serious artist. He slowly changed that perception, and yet like all pioneers had his fair share of detractors – one critic scathingly described his 1976 MoMA retrospective as “perfectly bad, perhaps… perfectly boring, certainly”.
For me, to fully appreciate Eggleston’s photographs, you have to understand the world in which he created them. Photography at the time was seen as an art form that needed a subject matter, a message, a story – neatly framed for the viewer to digest. His work turned that notion on its head – his subjects were mundane and barely subjects at all, often set at uncustomary angles, with no hint of an idiosyncratic character, or a ‘decisive moment’ for which Cartier-Bresson was busy making his name. He framed the banal, and found beauty in it, celebrating the ordinary through his fascinating colour combinations and ‘magic hour lighting’. You need to slow yourself down when you look at his work – taking notice of the form and tight framing, the colour combinations and how they play against the shadows. His talent slowly reveals itself in each of his images.
Eggleston was a ‘democratic photographer’ paving the way for eccentrics like Martin Parr and Nan Goldin. While most photographers were busy with the rigour of black and white photography, Eggleston truly saw in colour.
See also: Stephen Shore, Joel Meyerowitz