On view November 7, 2008 – January 25, 2009
One of the most influential photographers of the last half-century, William Eggleston has defined the history of color photography. This exhibition is the artist’s first retrospective in the United States and includes both his color and black-and-white photographs as well as Stranded in Canton, the artist’s video work from the early 1970s. The exhibition will travel throughout the United States as well as to the Haus der Kunst in Munich following its New York presentation.
William Eggleston’s great achievement in photography can be described in a straightforward way: he captures everyday moments and transforms them into indelible images. William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008 presents a comprehensive selection from nearly fifty years of image-making.
Born in 1939 in Sumner, Mississippi, a small town in the Delta region, Eggleston showed an early interest in cameras and audio technology. While studying at various colleges in the South, he purchased his first camera and came across a copy of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s book The Decisive Moment (1952). In the early 1960s, Eggleston married and moved to Memphis, where he has lived ever since. He first worked in black-and-white, but by the end of the decade began photographing primarily in color. Internationally acclaimed and widely traveled, Eggleston has spent the past four decades photographing all around the world, conveying intuitive responses to fleeting configurations of cultural signs and moods as specific expressions of local color. Psychologically complex and casually refined, bordering on kitsch and never conventionally beautiful, these photographs speak principally to the expanse of Eggleston’s imagination and have had a pervasive influence on all aspects of visual culture. By not censoring, rarely editing, and always photographing, Eggleston convinces us of the idea of the democratic camera.
Impressed with a series of color slides that Eggleston showed him, in May 1976, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, mounted an exhibition of Eggleston’s photographs under the curatorial direction of John Szarkowski. In retrospect, the MoMA exhibition was a pivotal moment in the history of color photography, which had previously been encountered mainly in magazines and advertisements. Despite initial criticism, through the work of Eggleston and contemporaries such as Stephen Shore and Joel Meyerowitz, color photography came to be recognized as a legitimate artistic medium.