William Eggleston

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William Eggleston
Born July 27, 1939 (1939-07-27) (age 69)
Memphis, Tennessee
Nationality American
Field Photography

William Eggleston (born July 27, 1939 in Memphis, Tennessee) is an American photographer. He is widely credited with securing recognition for color photography as a legitimate artistic medium to display in art galleries.


[edit] Early years

William Eggleston was born in Memphis, Tennessee and raised in Sumner, Mississippi. His father was an engineer who had failed as a cotton farmer, 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. As a child, Eggleston was also interested in audio technology.

At the age of fifteen, Eggleston was sent to the Webb School, a boarding establishment In Bell Buckle, Tennessee. 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 around him. Nevertheless, Eggleston noted in retrospect 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."[1]

Eggleston attended Vanderbilt University for a year, Delta State College for a semester, and the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) for approximately five years, none of this experience 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 a visiting painter from New York named Tom Young.

[edit] Artistic development

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.”[1] First photographing in black-and-white, Eggleston began experimenting with color in 1965 and 1966; color transparency film became his dominant medium in the later sixties. 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), which consisted of fourteen dye-transfer prints. Eggleston's work was featured in an exhibition at MOMA in 1976, which was accompanied by the volume William Eggleston's Guide. The MOMA 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). Eggleston's was the first one-person exhibition of colour photographs in the history of MOMA.

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 seventies, 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."

William Eggleston's Guide was followed by other books and portfolios, including 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); Flowers (1978); Wedgwood Blue (1979); Seven (1979); Troubled Waters (1980); The Louisiana Project (1980); William Eggleston's Graceland (1984) The Democratic Forest (1989); Faulkner's Mississippi (1990), and Ancient and Modern (1992). Eggleston also worked with filmmakers, photographing the set of John Huston's film Annie (1982) and documenting the making of David Byrne's film True Stories (1986). He is the subject of Michael Almereyda's recent documentary portrait William Eggleston in the Real World (2005). In 2008, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York co-organized with Haus der Kunst in Munich, the retrospective exhibition William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008

[edit] Eggleston's aesthetic

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."

Eggleston has a unique ability to find beauty, and striking displays of color, in ordinary scenes. A dog trotting toward the camera; a Moose lodge; a woman standing by a rural road; a row of country mailboxes; a convenience store; the lobby of a Krystal fast-food restaurant -- all of these ordinary scenes take on new significance in the rich colors of Eggleston's photographs. 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.”[1]

It may help to compare Eggleston's work to the work of another illustrious Mississippian, William Faulkner, who also drew subject matter from the Mississippi Delta region that is the subject matter of much of Eggleston's art. Both Eggleston and Faulkner drew upon insights of the European and American avant-gardes to help them explore their Southern environs in new and surprising ways. As the writer Willie Morris wrote, Eggleston's "depiction of the rural Southern countryside speaks eloquently of the fictional world of Faulkner and, not coincidentally, the shared experience of almost every Southerner. Often lurid, always lyrical, his stark realism resonates with the language and tone of Faulkner's greatest mythic cosmos of Yoknapatawpha County .... The work of William Eggleston would have pleased Bill Faulkner ... immensely." Eggleston seemed to acknowledge the affinity between himself and Faulkner with the publication of his book, Faulkner's Mississippi, in 1990.

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."[2]

[edit] Notable publications

Album cover for Radio City by Big Star

The earliest commercial use of Eggleston's art was in the album covers for the Memphis group Big Star who used the famous Red Ceiling image on their album Radio City, notable for the sexually-explicit silhouettes in the poster that appears in the lower right-hand corner of the image. 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. z` 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 the both cover to Primal Scream's single "Country Girl" and on the cover of the paperback edition of Ali Smith's novel The Accidental while also 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 and Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band by Joanna Newsom.

[edit] Appearances

Eggleston is featured in a print ad for Marc Jacobs clothing; also in the photo is Charlotte Rampling. They were photographed by Juergen Teller. William Eggleston appears in the movie Great Balls of Fire as Jerry Lee Lewis's father.

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b c Julie Belcove (November 2008). "William Eggleston". W. http://www.wmagazine.com/artdesign/2008/11/william_eggleston?currentPage=1. Retrieved on 2008-11-13. 
  2. ^ Philip Gefter (January 9, 2008). "Keeping It Real". ARTINFO. http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/26416/keeping-it-real/. Retrieved on 2008-04-23. 

[edit] Sources

  • 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

[edit] External links

NAME Eggleston, William
SHORT DESCRIPTION American photographer
PLACE OF BIRTH Memphis, Tennessee, United States
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