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'William Eggleston Portraits' is a body of work that keeps you guessing

The images of photographer William Eggleston tease with half-told stories.

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William Eggleston Portraits
By Phillip Prodger
Yale University Press
184 pp.

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The surreal images of American photographer William Eggleston are likely to leave viewers unsatisfied, and that is a high compliment. Working mostly in the South in the 1960s and ’70s, Eggleston captured images that often seem like movie stills from a film you’ve never seen. Eggleston's compositions of mundane objects and faces will leave you trying to piece together a story that will never be fully clear. For the information they include and the lack thereof, the images in William Eggleston Portraits beg to be scrutinized and revisited.

Even the title and premise of the book is a little unsatisfying. Viewers are primed to look at a collection of portraits that reveal something of the subject or photographer. But traditional poses and compositions are thrown out; subjects are caught in the middle of an incomplete action against a backdrop that leaves few clues. Though it’s difficult to gain any real insights into either the subject or photographer, these “portraits” are intimate and unguarded.

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In one of the more memorable images in the book, two young women in colorful dresses recline with a sense of familiarity. A bright, fresh flower set in a glass juxtaposes the drab floral pattern on the couch. The young woman on the right leans toward the one on the left, to console? To whisper a secret?

There’s no conclusion to be reached, but Eggleston’s photographs keep you looking and guessing.
Ann Hermes is a Monitor staff photographer.