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Exhibition Preview: William Eggleston

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If the images from William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961–2008 (opening this Saturday) seem a bit familiar at first glance, that’s a testament to how successfully Eggleston legitimized the snapshot aesthetic, creating everyday images of everyday places. But these images aren’t familiar because Eggleston takes photos like we do; it comes more from the fact that Eggleston changes the way we look at the people and things that surround us. Over the past fifty years, he has refined and defined what we think of as “casual” photography. His groundbreaking 1976 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art cemented color photography as fine art.

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But despite the initial familiarity, his work is so much more than our meager attempts. His color is bright, vivid, and saturated. The image above includes three of his photographs from the mid-1970s and although they reproduce well here (remember, you’re looking at a photograph of photographs, digitally mediated), the richness of the images is almost unbelievable.

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In addition, as you take a closer look at the subject matter, you’ll start to realize that he gravitates to objects and moments that we would likely miss…unless monumental tricycles (the image above is one of his most famous works), a smoke break in a nondescript suburban parking lot, or mid-century signage is your sort of thing.

In the exhibition, you’ll also see videos (including Stranded in Canton, which you can see a glimpse of in the image below) as well as some of Eggleston’s later work from places like Kyoto, Berlin, and Graceland.

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The exhibition is open today to members and tomorrow to the public. And better yet, in a rare public appearance, the artist himself will be here tomorrow signing books in the Modern Wing from 3:30-5:00.

So in the words of Katherine Bussard, Art Insitute Associate Curator of Photography, I invite you to “please get very close and take a look.”

Image 1 (L to R)
William Eggleston. Untitled, N.D. from Los Alamos, 1965-68 and 1972-74. Private Collection.
William Eggleston. Untitled, N.D. from Los Alamos, 1965-68 and 1972-74. Private Collection.

Image 2 (L to R)
William Eggleston. Greenwood, Mississippi, 1973. Collection of Adam Bartos.
William Eggleston. Untitled, 1975. Cheim & Read, New York.
William Eggleston. Untitled, 1973. Collection of Winston and Elizabeth Eggleston.

Image 3
William Eggleston. Memphis, 1969/70 from William Eggleston’s Guide, 1976. The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., Pleasantville, New York.

Image 4 (L to R)
William Eggleston. Stranded in Canton, 1973/74. Eggleston Artistic Trust, Memphis.
William Eggleston. Untitled, c. 1973 from 5x7, 2007. Cheim & Read, New York.
William Eggleston. Untitled, c. 1973 from 5x7, 2007. Cheim & Read, New York.

All images: © Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.

William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961–2008 is organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in association with Haus der Kunst, Munich.