Though each of these photographs was exhibited in the landmark exhibition “William Eggleston’s Guide”, at the Museum of Modern Art in 1976, rarely were more than one or two prints made at the time, and thus most of these pictures have been unavailable until now. The present show marks the first occasion that many of these images have been exhibited on the West Coast. At the same time it re-examines, a decade later, the photographs that were said to “re-invent” color photography; this body of work has been particularly influential because it was the first to address color as a descriptive, rather than a decorative, element in photography.
The photographs were made near Eggleston’s home in Memphis, and nearby in northern Mississippi. Of this work, John Szarkowski has written:
Eggleston shows us pictures of aunts and cousins and friends, of houses in the neighborhood and in neighboring neighborhoods, of local streets and side roads, local strangers, odd souvenirs, all of this appearing not at all as it might in a social document, but as it might in a diary, where the important meanings would be not public and general but private and esoteric… These pictures are fascinating partly because they contradict our expectations. We have been told so often of the bland, synthetic smoothness of exemplary American life, of its comfortable, vacant insentience, its extruded, stamped and molded sameness, in a word its irredeemable dullness, that we have half come to believe it, and thus are startled and perhaps exhilarated to see these pictures of prototypically normal types on their familiar ground, who seem to be surrounded by spirits, not all of them benign.
Eggleston was born in 1939 in Memphis, near his family’s cotton farm in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. His interest in photography was sparked about 1962, when he discovered the work of Cartier-Bresson. He has been awarded fellowships by both the Guggenhein Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts.