“Often people ask what I’m photographing, which is a hard question to answer. And the best what I’ve come up with is I just say: Life today.”
Until the 1970s, color photography was considered to be inadequate for artworks. Back then only black and white photographs met the standards of art critics. But then came William Eggleston (born 1939, Memphis/Tennessee, USA) and showed that color images can have a place in modern art.
The colors in his pictures are saturated and intense, people don’t pose in front of the camera, and traditional notions of composition are abandoned. William Eggleston not only introduced color photography into the art world, but also turned the banal and everyday into art.
After he had abandoned his college career, William Eggleston made a living working as a freelance photographer. Before beginning with color photography in the late 1960s, had studied in detail black and white photography.
When he had a solo exhibition at the “Museum of Modern Art in New York” (MoMA) in 1976, he became a star in the art world, but he still did not have the full approval of all the critics. The reason was not just the color in his photos. Although Eggleston is often referred to as the “father of color photography,” his work and his work are not limited only to this.
William Eggleston also introduced completely new topics into photography. For him, it seems like there is no criteria of what to take a picture of. Anything can be a worthy a picture. Even trash on the street deserves to be photographed, nothing is excluded from the artist’s photographic vision.
Over the years, William Eggleston has made himself a reputation not only to be a rule breaking photographer, but also to be a quite difficult and unique character. He seldom talks about his art and when he does so, he can be quite harsh and little polite.
That’s why this documentary “The Colourful Mr. Eggleston” is remarkable, as it gives a rare glimpse at William Eggleston as he is being followed by the camera while taking pictures.
But it’s not only common issues and the ordinary that characterize William Eggleston’s photography, it’s also his peculiar approach – literally. When photographing William Eggleston takes on the strangest positions to get exactly the right angle. This video shows that beautifully.
At first glance, many of William Eggleston’s photos may seem trivial, but a close examination shows how thoroughly chosen are the compositions of seemingly random situations and scenes. William Eggleston does not fix or alter his scenes, nothing is staged or arranged. He adjusts himself to whatever comes across his camera, and in doing so cuts out a small piece of reality transforming it into a work of art because of its individual and unique perspective.
From today’s perspective, William Eggleston’s photographs do not seem all that spectacular. But in its heyday in the 1970s, they were quite revolutionary. William Eggleston has shown that the photographer is more important than the subject. Eggleston is a landmark, a turning point in the history of photography.
William Eggleston’s work can be seen on his official website: www.egglestontrust.com
Featured reading: Interview with William Eggleston (Interview Magazine) “I’ve also never had favourite pictures or subjects. I have discipline of treating everything equally”, and “A Talk With: William Eggleston” (Time Magazine).