David Zwirner is pleased to present 2¼, a series of square-format colour photographs from the 1970s by American photographer William Eggleston. Over the course of nearly six decades, Eggleston has established a singular pictorial style that deftly combines vernacular subject matter with an innate and sophisticated understanding of colour, form, and composition. His vividly saturated photographs transform the ordinary into distinctive, poetic images that eschew fixed meaning. A pioneer of colour photography, Eggleston helped elevate the medium to the art form that it is recognised to be today.
The works on view in 2¼ were taken around 1977 throughout California and the American South following the artist’s groundbreaking exhibition of colour photography at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1976. Eggleston shot the images using a two-and-one-quarter-inch square-format camera. The resulting photographs of individuals, cars, parking lots, and local stores and businesses speak to the uniformity of postwar material culture while revealing the distinct character and individualism of the people and places that populate the American landscape. Many of the images in 2¼ were first published as a monograph of the same title by Twin Palms in 1999. Several were also included in Cadillac, a portfolio of thirteen chromogenic prints that Eggleston produced the same year.
On view at 24 Grafton Street in London, the show marks the artist’s first presentation at the gallery’s UK location and his second solo exhibition with David Zwirner since joining the gallery in 2016. It follows recent exhibitions of the artist’s work in the UK, including William Eggleston: Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, London, in 2016, and William Eggleston at Tate Modern, London, in 2013.
Image: William Eggleston, Untitled, c. 1977 (detail)
A rare interview with William Eggleston was broadcast recently on BBC Radio 4's Front Row program. The artist spoke to John Wilson about the breakthrough of color images into the world of fine art photography, the process of creating dye transfer prints, and the truth in his famously saturated colors.
"We can speak of the nature and theory of photography, its philosophy, its formality and offhandedness, the random solemnity and theorem of arbitrary borders and cropped fields; we can even speak of the fabled, magical mundaneness of Mr. Eggleston’s cars—some bright, some husks—and merciless, merciless facades, his unapologetic faces and deadpan dogs, his bright-dark trees and monolithic, colored, geomantic vision (colors at once faded and vivid), urban and country. But what do these things tell us, collectively? These sharecropped fields, these flat, sacred endscapes? Are they sorrowful images? Are we already dead, looking at them? Is a radiator of itself a sad thing, sadder still when topped by artificial flowers? No: neither sad nor ironic but rather the thing Mr. Eggleston’s itinerant eye fell upon and snagged—there’s mystery in what is selected but that isn’t our concern—and he feels such tenderness toward those things, those transcendent characters, radiators and false flowers, colloquial signs and ghost cafes, gasoline and soda logos." —Bruce Wagner, "William Eggleston, Mystagogue," in William Eggleston: 2¼, 1999
“There are three things viewers usually note when confronted with Eggleston’s photographs. First, their ordinary subject matter. Second, their undertow of menace or morbidity. Third, their vibrant, enriched colour, which he achieved via a printing process called ‘dye transfer’.
In his pictures, he isolates things we would not commonly look twice at, such as an open freezer, ceiling cables trailing towards a light bulb, or heated hair rollers on top of a lavatory. Simple, you think. Then: too simple, as if maybe you are being tricked.
From then, the picture begins to unfold and unfold again. It teems with possible narratives and questions.” —Lucy Davies, “American Photographer William Eggleston on How Quaaludes and Bourbon Informed His Extraordinary Vision,” The Telegraph, 2019
"As he [William Eggleston] told his friend Stanley Booth in 1999: ‘what was new back then [in the late 1950s] was shopping centers, and I took pictures of them.’ Thus appeared a sort of typology of the elements of the ‘novel’ the artist was beginning to construct: the bars, the gas stations, the cars, the ghostly figures adrift in space, but also the ceilings, the everyday objects, the drabness and the dereliction.… The close-ups of home appliances had already begun to appear … vernacular points of view that had been neglected until then.… This is where we find the basic vocabulary of the Egglestonian language.… This determined approach, with its restrained melancholy, contained the seeds of his future radical vision." —Agnès Sire, "The Invention of Language," in William Eggleston: From Black and White to Color, 2014