July 27, 1939 |
William Eggleston (born July 27, 1939), is an American photographer. He is widely credited with increasing recognition for color photography as a legitimate artistic medium to display in art galleries.
William Eggleston was born in Memphis, Tennessee and raised in Sumner, Mississippi. His father was an engineer and his mother was the daughter of a prominent local judge. As a boy, Eggleston was introverted; he enjoyed playing the piano, drawing, and working with electronics. From an early age, he was also drawn to visual media, and reportedly enjoyed buying postcards and cutting out pictures from magazines.
At the age of 15, Eggleston was sent to the Webb School, a boarding establishment. Eggleston later recalled few fond memories of the school, telling a reporter, "It had a kind of Spartan routine to 'build character'. I never knew what that was supposed to mean. It was so callous and dumb. It was the kind of place where it was considered effeminate to like music and painting." Eggleston was unusual among his peers in eschewing the traditional Southern male pursuits of hunting and sports, in favor of artistic pursuits and observation of the world. Nevertheless, Eggleston noted that he never felt like an outsider. "I never had the feeling that I didn't fit in," he told a reporter, "But probably I didn't."
Eggleston attended Vanderbilt University for a year, Delta State College for a semester, and the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) for about five years, none of these experiences resulting in a college degree. However, it was during these university years that his interest in photography took root: a friend at Vanderbilt gave Eggleston a Leica camera. Eggleston studied art at Ole Miss and was introduced to abstract expressionism by visiting painter, Tom Young.
Eggleston's early photographic efforts were inspired by the work of Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank, and by French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson's book, The Decisive Moment. Eggleston later recalled that the book was "the first serious book I found, from many awful books...I didn't understand it a bit, and then it sank in, and I realized, my God, this is a great one.” First photographing in black-and-white, Eggleston began experimenting with color in 1965 and 1966 after being introduced to the medium by William Christenberry. Color transparency film became his dominant medium in the later 1960s. Eggleston's development as a photographer seems to have taken place in relative isolation from other artists. In an interview, John Szarkowski of New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) describes his first, 1969 encounter with the young Eggleston as being "absolutely out of the blue". After reviewing Eggleston's work (which he recalled as a suitcase full of "drugstore" color prints) Szarkowski prevailed upon the Photography Committee of MoMA to buy one of Eggleston's photographs.
In 1970, Eggleston's friend William Christenberry introduced him to Walter Hopps, director of Washington, D.C.'s Corcoran Gallery. Hopps later reported being "stunned" by Eggleston's work: "I had never seen anything like it."
Eggleston taught at Harvard in 1973 and 1974, and it was during these years that he discovered dye-transfer printing; he was examining the price list of a photographic lab in Chicago when he read about the process. As Eggleston later recalled: "It advertised 'from the cheapest to the ultimate print.' The ultimate print was a dye-transfer. I went straight up there to look and everything I saw was commercial work like pictures of cigarette packs or perfume bottles but the colour saturation and the quality of the ink was overwhelming. I couldn't wait to see what a plain Eggleston picture would look like with the same process. Every photograph I subsequently printed with the process seemed fantastic and each one seemed better than the previous one." The dye-transfer process resulted in some of Eggleston's most striking and famous work, such as his 1973 photograph entitled The Red Ceiling, of which Eggleston said, "The Red Ceiling is so powerful, that in fact I've never seen it reproduced on the page to my satisfaction. When you look at the dye it is like red blood that's wet on the wall.... A little red is usually enough, but to work with an entire red surface was a challenge."
At Harvard, Eggleston prepared his first portfolio, entitled 14 Pictures (1974). Eggleston's work was exhibited at MoMA in 1976. Although this was well over a decade after MoMA had exhibited color photographs by Ernst Haas, the tale that the Eggleston exhibition was MoMA's first exhibition of color photography is frequently repeated,[n 1] and the 1976 show is regarded as a watershed moment in the history of photography, by marking "the acceptance of colour photography by the highest validating institution" (in the words of Mark Holborn).
Around the time of his 1976 MoMA exhibition, Eggleston was introduced to Viva, the Andy Warhol "superstar", with whom he began a long relationship. During this period Eggleston became familiar with Andy Warhol's circle, a connection that may have helped foster Eggleston's idea of the "democratic camera", Mark Holborn suggests. Also in the 1970s Eggleston experimented with video, producing several hours of roughly edited footage Eggleston calls Stranded in Canton. Writer Richard Woodward, who has viewed the footage, likens it to a "demented home movie", mixing tender shots of his children at home with shots of drunken parties, public urination and a man biting off a chicken's head before a cheering crowd in New Orleans. Woodward suggests that the film is reflective of Eggleston's "fearless naturalism—a belief that by looking patiently at what others ignore or look away from, interesting things can be seen."
Eggleston's published books and portfolios, include Los Alamos (actually completed in 1974, before the publication of the Guide) the massive Election Eve (1976; a portfolio of photographs taken around Plains, Georgia before that year's presidential election); The Morals of Vision (1978); and Flowers (1978); Wedgwood Blue (1979); Seven (1979); Troubled Waters (1980); The Louisiana Project (1980). William Eggleston's Graceland (1984) is a series of commissioned photographs of Elvis Presley’s Graceland, depicting the singer’s home as an airless, windowless tomb in custom-made bad taste. Other series include The Democratic Forest (1989), Faulkner's Mississippi (1990), and Ancient and Modern (1992).
Some of his early series have not been shown until the late 2000s. The Nightclub Portraits (1973), a series of large black-and-white portraits in bars and clubs around Memphis was, for the most part, not shown until 2005. Lost and Found, part of Eggleston’s Los Alamos series, is a body of photographs that have remained unseen for decades because until 2008 no one knew that they belonged to Walter Hopps; the works from this series chronicle road trips the artist took with Hopps, leaving from Memphis and traveling as far as the West Coast. Also not editioned until 2011, Eggleston’s Election Eve photographs were taken prior to the 1976 presidential election in Plains, Georgia, the rural seat of presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, and along the road from Memphis, Tennessee.
Eggleston's mature work is characterized by its ordinary subject-matter. As Eudora Welty noted in her introduction to The Democratic Forest, an Eggleston photograph might include "old tyres, Dr Pepper machines, discarded air-conditioners, vending machines, empty and dirty Coca-Cola bottles, torn posters, power poles and power wires, street barricades, one-way signs, detour signs, No Parking signs, parking meters and palm trees crowding the same curb."
Eudora Welty suggests that Eggleston sees the complexity and beauty of the mundane world: "The extraordinary, compelling, honest, beautiful and unsparing photographs all have to do with the quality of our lives in the ongoing world: they succeed in showing us the grain of the present, like the cross-section of a tree.... They focus on the mundane world. But no subject is fuller of implications than the mundane world!" Mark Holborn, in his introduction to Ancient and Modern writes about the dark undercurrent of these mundane scenes as viewed through Eggleston's lens: "[Eggleston's] subjects are, on the surface, the ordinary inhabitants and environs of suburban Memphis and Mississippi--friends, family, barbecues, back yards, a tricycle and the clutter of the mundane. The normality of these subjects is deceptive, for behind the images there is a sense of lurking danger." American artist Edward Ruscha said of Eggleston's work, "When you see a picture he’s taken, you’re stepping into some kind of jagged world that seems like Eggleston World.”
According to Philip Gefter from Art & Auction, "It is worth noting that Stephen Shore and William Eggleston, pioneers of color photography in the early 1970s, borrowed, consciously or not, from the photorealists. Their photographic interpretation of the American vernacular—gas stations, diners, parking lots—is foretold in photorealist paintings that preceded their pictures."
- The Democratic Forest. New York: Doubleday, 1989. ISBN 978-0-385266-51-2
- Faulkner's Mississippi. Birmingham: Oxmoor House, 1990. ISBN 978-0-848710-52-1
- Ancient and Modern. New York: Random House, 1992. ISBN 978-0-224069-63-2
- William Eggleston's Guide. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002. ISBN 978-0-870703-78-2
- Los Alamos. Zurich: Scalo Publishers, 2003. ISBN 978-3-908247-69-2
- 2 1/4. Santa Fe: Twin Palms Publishers, 2008. ISBN 978-0-944092-70-5
- Paris. Göttingen: Steidl, 2009. ISBN 978-3-865219-15-2
- Before Color. Göttingen: Steidl, 2010. ISBN 978-3-869301-22-8
- For Now. Santa Fe: Twin Palms Publishing, 2010. ISBN 978-1-931885-93-5
- Chromes. Göttingen: Steidl, 2011. ISBN 978-3-869303-11-6
- Los Alamos Revisited. Göttingen: Steidl, 2012. ISBN 978-3-869305-32-5
Photographs in notable publications
The earliest commercial use of Eggleston's art was on album covers for the Memphis group Big Star, with whom Eggleston recorded for the album Third/Sister Lovers and who used the famous Red Ceiling image on their album Radio City. Later records also had other Eggleston images, including the dolls on a Cadillac hood featured on the cover of the classic Alex Chilton album Like Flies on Sherbert. The Primal Scream album Give out But Don't Give Up features a cropped photograph of a neon confederate flag and a palm tree by Eggleston. In 1994, Eggleston allowed his long-time friend and fellow photographer Terry Manning to use two Eggleston photographs for the front and back covers of the CD release of Christopher Idylls, an album of ethereal acoustic guitar music produced by Manning and performed by another Eggleston friend, Gimmer Nicholson.
In 2006, a William Eggleston image was coincidentally used as both the cover to Primal Scream's single "Country Girl" and the paperback edition of Ali Smith's novel The Accidental. The same picture had already been used on the cover of Chuck Prophet's Age of Miracles album in 2004.
In 2001, William Eggleston's photograph "Memphis (1968)" was used as the cover of Jimmy Eat World's top-selling album Bleed American. Eggleston's photos also appear on Tanglewood Numbers by the Silver Jews, Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band by Joanna Newsom and Transference by Spoon.
- William Eggleston in the Real World (2005) by Michael Almereyda
- By the Ways: A Journey with William Eggleston (2007), directed by Vincent Gérard and Cédric Laty. Selected for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2006.
- The Source (2012), by Doug Aitken[n 2]
Film and other appearances
- Great Balls of Fire (1989), directed by Jim McBride. Eggleston plays Jerry Lee Lewis's father, Elmo Lewis.
- Restless, x-ray technician (as himself) (2011)
- Today (TV Series) (episode dated 31 May 2011), as himself
- Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (2013), directed by Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori.
- Eggleston featured in a print ad for Marc Jacobs clothing, alongside Charlotte Rampling, photographed by Juergen Teller.
Eggleston's work has been the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions worldwide including:
- William Eggleston and the Color Tradition, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (1999)
- William Eggleston, Fondation Cartier, Paris (2001, traveled to Hayward Gallery, London)
- documenta 11, Kassel, Germany (2002)
- William Eggleston: Los Alamos, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany (2002, traveled to Serralves Foundation, Portugal, Norwegian Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo, Norway; Louisiana Museum of Art, Humlebaek, Denmark; Albertina, Vienna, Austria; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas through 2005)
- William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video 1961–2008, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2008) co-organized with Haus der Kunst in Munich, Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C., Art Institute of Chicago and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Eggleston was awarded The Royal Photographic Society's Special 150th Anniversary Medal and Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS) in recognition of a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography in 2003, and in 2013 was awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award at the Sony World Photography Awards.
In 2012, three dozen of Eggleston's larger-format prints – 40 by 66 inches instead of the original format of 16 by 20 inches – sold for $5.9 million in an auction at Christie's to benefit the Eggleston Artistic Trust, an organization dedicated to the preservation of the artist’s work; the top lot, Untitled 1970, set a world auction record for a single print by the photographer at $578,000. New York art collector Jonathan Sobel, subsequently filed a lawsuit in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against Eggleston, alleging that the artist's decision to print and sell oversized versions of some of his famous images in an auction has diluted the rarity—and therefore the resale value—of the originals. The court later dismissed the lawsuit.
- Two examples: "[Eggleston] managed to convince [MoMA] to grant him their very first one-man exhibition of color photography" (Jim Lewis, "Kodachrome Moment: How William Eggleston's revolutionary exhibition changed everything", Slate, February 10, 2003); "a controversial but revolutionary exhibition in 1976—MoMA’s first solo show to feature color photographs—and a classic accompanying book, William Eggleston’s Guide" ("William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961–2008", Corcoran Gallery of Art, 2009).
- It can be viewed at .
- Julie Belcove (November 2008). "William Eggleston". W. Retrieved 2008-11-13.
- "Ernst Haas: Color Correction", Lens Culture, 2012. Retrieved February 23, 2013.
- Press release for Ernst Haas: Color Photography (1962), reproduced here (PDF), MoMA. Retrieved February 23, 2013.
- Rick Poynor, "Ernst Haas and the color underground", Design Observer Group Observatory, January 19, 2012. Retrieved February 23, 2013.
- "reCREATION: The first color photography exhibition at MoMA, 1962", Opinarte, 2005
- Holland Cotter (November 6, 2008), Old South Meets New, in Living Color New York Times.
- Ken Johnson (July 29, 2005), Art in Review; William Eggleston New York Times.
- Carol Vogel (October 22, 2009), Whitney Gets Works by William Eggleston New York Times.
- William Eggleston: Election Eve, November 9 - December 23, 2011 Gagosian Gallery, Paris.
- Philip Gefter (January 9, 2008). "Keeping It Real". ARTINFO. Retrieved 2008-04-23.
- William Eggleston: Los Alamos, September 27 - November 10, 2012 Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills.
- Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Award Accessed 13 August 2012
- Gareth Harris and Charlotte Burns (March 29, 2013), Court dismisses lawsuit over Eggleston reprints The Art Newspaper.
- Randy Kennedy (April 5, 2012), Collector Sues William Eggleston Over New Prints of Old Photos New York Times.
- Kelly Crow (April 5, 2012), Collector Sues Artist Over Photographs Wall Street Journal.
- Eggleston, William (1989). The Democratic Forest. Introduction by Eudora Welty. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-26651-0.
- Eggleston, William; & Morris, William (1990). Faulkner's Mississippi. Birmingham: Oxmoor House. ISBN 0-8487-1052-5.
- Eggleston, William (1992). Ancient and Modern. Introduction by Mark Holborn. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-679-41464-9.
- Lindgren, Carl Edwin. (1993 Summer). "Ancient and modern". Review of Ancient and Modern by William Eggleston. Number, Volume 19:20-21.
- Lindgren, Carl Edwin. (1993). "Enigmatic presence". Review of Ancient and Modern by William Eggleston. RSA Journal (Journal of the Roy. Soc. of Arts), Volume 141 Number 5439, 404.
- Woodward, Richard B. (October 1991). "Memphis Beau". Vanity Fair.
- Eggleston Trust bio
- Cheim & Read - William Eggleston
- William Eggleston at the Whitney Museum.
- A biography of the artist William Eggleston from the J. Paul Getty Museum.
- The Eggleston Trust's website offers extensive information on the artist, including a gallery of his works.
- William Eggleston at Xavier Hufkens, Brussels
- Where World View and World Lines Converge in Fillip
- William J. Eggleston at the Internet Movie Database