Seeing William Eggleston’s photographs in person for the first time in 2008 was a revelation. Previously I had only seen his work in books and on the web. While I could appreciate Mr. Eggleston’s work in a historic sense, I never really thought much of the images themselves. But then I got to see the actual dye transfer prints at his retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, “William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008” and I was blown away. The prints weren’t that big compared to today’s standards, but the hues and the way they lay next to each other in the images had an almost hallucinatory intensity. Once I got over the shock of the color, I started to see the masterly compositions themselves and each and every photograph drew me in like the nocturnal is drawn to the luminous.
The current William Eggleston exhibition at David Zwirner in Chelsea is sadly a different viewing experience. What is on the wall are 45 x 65 inch pigment prints. They had the exact opposite effect on me of the 2008 Whitney retrospective. The intensity was gone and as soon as you got any closer than say 2 -3 feet, the images fell apart. The prints physically moved me back about 6 feet which seemed to be the proper viewing distance. At that distance, which in the huge space that is the David Zwirner gallery is easily maintained, one could get an appreciation for Eggleston’s masterful compositional skills and unique vision.
The lesson here is that size matters. Each image has a specific size that is just right. Eggleston’s images are intimate little pokes, like a friend elbowing you and saying, “Hey, look at that.” The images aren’t meant to shout at you. An Eggleston image should invite you in and tickle you with it’s color filled observations.
Nowadays printing is not as much a need as it was back in the film days. But still sooner lr later every photographer should make a set of prints, and when you do consider the size you want your prints to be. I routinely make prints of my work and usually at the start I will make prints at different sized, from 4×6 inches to 11 x 14 inches and 12 x 18 inches. I then tack them up to a wall and consider them for a few weeks. As I look at them during the course of that time I try to feel which size best evokes the feeling I am after and which one gives the best visual representation of the subject. You’ll be surprised at what you find out.