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William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961–2008

February 27, 2010–May 23, 2010
Galleries 182–184, 188

One of the most influential American artists, William Eggleston changed the history of color photography. This exhibition—the artist’s first retrospective in the United States—brings together Eggleston’s famous color photographs of the American South with lesser-known works, such as his early black-and-white prints and provocative video recordings.

A key figure of the last half-century, Eggleston is often credited for singlehandedly ushering in the era of color art photography. His motivation was simple and decidedly everyday: “I had wanted to see a lot of things in color because the world is in color.” His achievement is patently more extraordinary—transforming ordinary moments into indelible images.

This exhibition, which fills the Modern Wing’s Abbott Galleries and Carolyn S. and Matthew Bucksbaum Gallery, demonstrates Eggleston’s democratic approach to his photographic subjects in both color and black-and-white. On display are Eggleston’s remarkable black-and-white images from the early 1960s and his little-seen recording of 1970s Memphis nightlife, Stranded in Canton. These works only amplify his achievement in bringing a detailed sensitivity to his iconic color photographs—telling portrayals of American culture, including a freezer stuffed with food, Elvis’s Graceland, and a supermarket clerk corralling grocery carts in the afternoon sunlight.

Internationally acclaimed, Eggleston has spent the past four decades photographing around the world, responding intuitively to fleeting configurations of cultural signs and specific expressions of local color. Psychologically complex and casually refined, bordering on kitsch and never conventionally beautiful, these photographs have had a pervasive influence on many contemporary artists. By not censoring, rarely editing, and always photographing even the seemingly banal, Eggleston convinces us completely of the idea of the democratic camera.

This exhibition will be closed on Friday, May 7 due to the School of the Art Institute's 2010 Fashion Show. 

Please note that some of the exhibition's videos contain potentially disturbing content.


A lavishly illustrated exhibition catalogue, filled with new scholarship, will prove the standard reference to Eggleston’s photographs for years to come.


This exhibition is organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in association with Haus der Kunst, Munich.


Generous support is provided by The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc., Norman and Melissa Selby, The John and Annamaria Phillips Foundation, Marcia Dunn and Jonathan Sobel, Diane and Tom Tuft, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support is provided by the Stephen C. and Katherine D. Sherrill Foundation, Lauren and Louis DePalo, the William Talbott Hillman Foundation, and The Gage Fund.

The Chicago presentation is generously funded in part by Jay and Gretchen Jordan. Additional support is provided by Joyce Chelberg.

William Eggleston. Untitled from Los Alamos, 1965–68 and 1972–74 (published 2003). Private Collection. © Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy Cheim and Read, New York.