“You can take a good picture of anything. A bad one, too.”
Until the 1970s, color photography was considered inappropriate for the artwork. Only black and white photographs met the standards of art critics. But then came William Eggleston (born 1939 in Memphis, Tennessee) and showed that color images can have a place in modern art. The colors in Eggleston’s photos are saturated and intense, the characters pose in front of the camera, and traditional ideas about photographic composition are abandoned.
William Eggleston Photography
After he had abandoned a college career, William Eggleston made a living as a freelance photographer. Before starting with color photography in the late 1960s, he had studied in detail black and white photography.
When Eggleston had a solo exhibition at the “Museum of Modern Art” (MoMA) in New York in 1976, and became a big star in the art world, he did not get the approval of all critics though. The reason was not only the color in his photos. Although Eggleston is often referred to as the “father of color photography”, his work is not limited only to this.
William Eggleston also introduced completely new topics to photography. For him, it seems that the reason to take a photograph of a particular thing does not play an important role. Everything can be photographed, or in other words: everything deserves to be photographed. For William Eggleston photography itself has no meaning (“There is no particular reason to search for meaning”) – and nothing is excluded from the photographic vision of the artist.
And it’s not only the common things that appear in Eggleston’s images, it’s also his approach and way of working that seem kind of “peculiar”.
This can be nicely seen in the great documentary called The Colourful Mr. Eggleston (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5). It’s a truly insightful photography movie because the camera follows Eggleston while he’s taking pictures, thus giving a rare glimpse at the artist. Then there is another film about Eggleston, “In The Real World”, which for me ranks among the best photography movies out there.
When photographing, Eggleston takes on the strangest positions to get exactly the right angle and framing. It’s the image itself rather than the photographed object that has a value in the visual world of William Eggleston photography.
I had this notion of what I called a democratic way of looking around, that nothing was more or less important.
At first glance, many photos of his photos may seem trivial, but a close examination shows that, they are indeed the results of very well thought out compositions of seemingly random scenes.
Eggleston does not fix or stage his scenes. He adjusts to whatever catches his attention, and in doing so cuts out a little bit of reality transforming it into a work of art giving it his unique individual perspective.
From today’s perspective, Eggleston’s photographs do not seem all that dramatic. But when he first appeared on the scene in the 1970s, Eggleston’s photography was revolutionary. William Eggleston demonstrated that the photographer is more important than the subject. Eggleston marked a turning point in contemporary photography. There is a before and an after William Eggleston.
Read some more features about famous photographers on this site: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Nan Goldin, Humberto Rivas or Graciela Iturbide, for example.
Check out my photography podcast – conversations with inspiring photographers from around the globe sharing their secrets for creating amazing images. It’s mostly in German, but here are some episodes in English:
Valerie Jardin: “Street Photography – Creative Vision Behind The Lens”
Dmitry Stepanenko: “Heavy Color” Street Photography
Jason Koxvold: “Knives” – Left Behind In Rural America”
Dyanne Wilson: Chasing The Northern Lights In Yellowknife
Luc Kordas: Loneliness In New York
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