National Portrait Gallery, London
There’s more to Eggleston’s everyday, extraordinary, infinitely various photographs of American life in the 60s and 70s than he would have us believe, as this captivating show reveals
There is a magnificent photograph by William Eggleston of a teenage boy framed in a shaft of evening sunlight. He appears in profile, leaning forward about an arm’s length from the camera. The sun gilds his strong forearm, which pushes forward like a runner, and caresses his handsome face, turning his quiff into a red-golden blaze. On the wall behind him the whole pose is confirmed in shadow – the golden boy as heroic silhouette.
Except that this is not a pose. It takes a moment or two to notice that the boy is not standing but moving and that his forearm is resting at right angles on a supermarket trolley. He is returning a queue of trolleys, in fact, to the shop. An ordinary scene is made extraordinary by perfectly natural light, and the worker is singled out as much by that light as by the camera. The image is almost romantic, but just held back.