William Eggleston. Hardcover, Thames & Hudson, 2002.
Article added on
February 7, 2002
The photographer William Eggleston was born in
1939 in Memphis, Tennessee, where he still lives. He attended Vanderbilt University, Delta State
College and the
University of Mississippi. He picked up photography in 1957 and became a
freelance photographer in the Mississippi-Tennessee region and in
Washington, D.C. He was inspired by Cartier Bresson and Walker Evans,
especially in his black and white photos. In 1965, Eggleston began to
experiment with color.
In 1967, Eggleston moved to New York City where he was influenced by the
work of the street photographers Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand.
Eggleston showed John Szarkowski, then curator of photography at the Museum of Modern
Art in New York, a suitcase full of color slides which led to the landmark
exhibition at the MoMA in 1976 and the production of the famous
accompanying catalogue William
Eggleston's Guide. The 75 works in color exhibited at the MoMA marked the beginning of the recognition of color
photography as an art form. Until then, only black & white photographs were
considered as a form of artistic expression whereas color photography was
disregarded as a purely commercial medium. The 1976 exhibition traveled to five
other American cities. It was a controversial show and the reviews were
mixed. Hilton Kramer, the New York Times' art critic responded to John Szarkowski's
catalogue assertion that Eggleston's photographs were "perfect":
"Perfect? Perfectly banal, perhaps. Perfectly boring, certainly."
In a certain sense, Hilton Kramer was right: In order to understand and
appreciate Eggleston's work, art lovers often have to take more than one
look at his photographs because he mostly deals with subjects of perfect banality
and everyday life, but with artistic care. It is his attention to American
normality which makes him special. Only a second look reveals that his
photographs are not banal, ordinary color snapshots such as people take
them every day. Eggleston is no realist documentary
photographer. There is always a touch of poetry in his work. His colors
are of an extraordinary beauty and it is surely no accident that Wassily
Kandinsky is his favorite painter. Eggleston disregards press
photography which, according to him, all resemble each other. For
Eggleston, the photograph is a purpose in itself.
In 1974, William Eggleston was a lecturer in Visual and Environmental
Studies at Harvard University and in 1978-79 he worked as a researcher in color video at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The appreciation of Eggleston's work has come a long way since the 1976
exhibtion in NYC. He has been called
"father of color photography" - although he did not of course invent it -
and since the 1990s he is widely regarded as the leading and
most influential color photographer of the 20th century. The rediscovery
and worldwide recognition of William Eggleston began in 1992 with an
exhibition at the Barbican Gallery in London.
The exhibition at the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain is divided
in two parts: a series of photographs of Kyoto produced specifically for the
exhibition and the retrospective itself.
The catalogue contains 156 retrospective photographs including ten
Kyoto photos. Among the 156, one can find the famous tricycle from 1970,
seen from the ground, which gives it a gigantic dimension. It is
considered his most famous photo. The color quality of the reproductions -
essential for Eggleston's work, especially for the ones executed with the dye transfer process for which he is best
known - is remarkable.
In the exhibition catalogue published by Thames & Hudson, William Eggleston did
not want an analysis or commentary of his photographs because he
prefers art lovers to approach his works without preconceptions. In this
context, it comes as no surprise
that Eggleston leaves most of his photographs untitled. It is up to the viewer to come
up with his individual interpretation.