Photograph of the back of a woman's head by American photographer William Eggleston, Memphis

William Eggleston, Memphis, 1965–68. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Promised Gift of Jade Lau. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London/Hong Kong

American photographerWilliam Eggleston‘s work was originally met with disdain by some critics for its ordinariness, the mundane subject matter, the absence of conventional beauty, but what they failed to recognise – ironically, since recognition is arguably the driving force behind the artist’s work – is Eggleston’s sensitivity and skill at revealing the untold, the passed-by.

Hand stirring a glass on an aeroplane by photographer William Eggleston

William Eggleston, En route to New Orleans, ca. 1971–74. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Promised Gift of Jade Lau. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London/Hong Kong.

A guy sitting on a bench eating a burger, a hand dipping a straw into a glass, the eerie glow of a strip light over a bed; his photographs are stories – caught right in the middle, like an overhead fragment of a sentence – they’re full of curiosity and emotion, vibrancy and light. These are images that belong to a particular moment and texture – and their beauty (because they really are beautiful) comes from their appreciation of the everyday.

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Most of the time, too much of the time, we walk, heads down, hands in our pockets not noticing the world that surrounds us, the fascinating peculiarities of the most commonplace objects, gestures, expressions. Eggleston magnifies the unnoticed and to look at his photographs is a reminder to appreciate the richness and diversity of our existence.

First colour photograph of a young clerk pushing a trolley by William Eggleston, Memphis

William Eggleston, Memphis, 1965. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Promised Gift of Jade Lau. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London/Hong Kong

The exhibition at The Met is comprised of the artist’s most notable portfolio, Los Alamos featuring photographs taken between 1965 and 1974, including Eggleston’s very first colour photograph of a young clerk pushing a train of shopping carts at a supermarket in Memphis, Tennessee (see above). It’s rare for every image at an exhibition to hold you, but these almost certainly will.

Millie Walton

‘William Eggleston: Los Alamos’, runs until 28 May 2018 at The Met, Fifth Avenue, New York