Mary Macpherson

The photographs of Mary Macpherson – with a dash of poetry

Posts Tagged ‘National Portrait Gallery London

Being little geekish about Eggleston

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This will sound like a geek’s ‘Guide’ to Eggleston, but one of the things that most interested us about the William Eggleston Portraits show at the NGV in Melbourne was the printing. Of course, of course, the images were important (she says hastily) – the glorious Devoe Money on the flowered seat and many other famous, and less well known portraits – but it was the printing and its relationship to images in various books, and contemporary versus historic processes that we are still discussing.

In New Zealand, significant international work is usually encountered in books. Although trips overseas sometimes bring first-hand encounters (I still remember being shown some famous Eggleston images at the Frankel Gallery in the ’90s) but the reproduction in the book remains the prime source. As famous books are re-issued, new and better reproductions replace the images printed in the 70s and 80s.

In the Portraits show where they’d gone to lengths to source vintage prints, some surprises were in store. The much talked about dye transfer prints for example – well, quite often they weren’t that pleasant as exhibition prints. If the image had been taken in the shade or dim lighting, the pervading sense was of a print that was too dark. The reproductions of these images in books are often better to dwell on. There were exceptions, of course, such as the boy at the grocery store beautifully lit by the afternoon sun, but this was an exception rather than the rule.

Another ‘verdict’ we came to was that images printed as contemporary archival pigment prints were much superior and quite often gorgeous, for example the riveting, uneasy ‘Artist’s uncle Adyn Schuyler Senior with assistant Jasper Staples’, which sang as an ultra large contemporary print.

And there were other printing surprises too. The recent book of Eggleston’s Portraits which accompanies the exhibition, starts with early black and white work, sized to fill the page. In the book I found myself appreciating these in a rather distant way, impatient to get to the colour work. In the exhibition, the small vintage black and white prints were beautiful and all at once, the spirit of the images snapped into place.  The one C-type print in the show was of a romantic image of the artist’s children with flowers. As a small negative print it was full of delicacy and wonder. Enlarged in the book, the singing quality is gone.

All this fretting over relative merits of reproduction and sizes, has I think at the bottom a sense of unease about how relative significant photographic images are – today, they can be online, in a show, a book, a magazine, on your computer, in your phone or camera. If the images are those that are hardwired into the brain, it’s like your childhood memories unearthed and thrown up into the air to come down in thousands of different forms. But I also take pleasure in one of my favourite thoughts about the past from American poet Mark Doty explaining our understanding of our personal histories as: climbing the internal staircase of a lighthouse, spiralling around an experience, one’s perspective always changing and developing.

Phillip Prodger talking about the William Eggleston show

Head of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, London, Phillip Prodger giving a curator’s tour of the show at the NGV.

Exhibition: ‘William Eggleston Portraits’ at the National Portrait Gallery, London

Written by Mary Macpherson

08/04/2017 at 5:16 pm

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