William Eggleston: Anointing the Overlooked, an exhibition bringing together recent works and iconic photographs by one of todays most renowned photographers, William Eggleston, opens in the Upper Level Gallery of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts
remains on view through May 1, 2011.
The exhibition, originated by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, includes 50 photographs by the Memphis, Tenn., resident who is one of the most influential artists of his generation. Included in the exhibition are selections from the permanent collection of the Memphis Brooks Museum, Cheim and Read Gallery, New York, with the assistance of the Eggleston Artistic Trust, and the David Lusk Gallery, Memphis, ephemera objects and the continuous screening of the renowned 2007 documentary By the Ways: A Journey with William Eggleston, directed by Vincent Gérard and Cédric Laty.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Frist Center will also present a film series, The Strangeness of the Ordinary, featuring films by David Lynch, Gus Van Sant and Sofia Coppola, directors who have been influenced by Egglestons aesthetic innovations.
William Eggleston was a key figure in legitimizing color photography as an artistic medium. By not censoring, rarely editing, and photographing the seemingly forgettable, Eggleston reminds audiences of the inherent democratic uses of photography and our widespread access to it.
What distinguishes Eggleston as an artist is his uncanny ability to capture everyday scenes or objects without slipping into sentimentality or nostalgia, says Dr. Susan Edwards, Executive Director and CEO of the Frist Center. His photographs are familiar yet nonspecific, compelling in their simplicity and intriguing by virtue of their understatement.
Born in Memphis, Tenn., in 1939 at the end of the Great Depression, Eggleston spent most of his formative years moving back and forth between Tennessee and Mississippi. As a child, Eggleston was interested in painting and audio technology. Since turning to photography, he has been a remarkable chronicler of a culture that was being transformed by racial integration, air conditioning, strip malls, shopping carts and fast-food chain restaurants. While rooted in a specific place and time, Egglestons depictions of these transformations have a universal resonance that continues today, when our realities continue to show themselves to be in a constant state of flux.
Although he attended Vanderbilt University, Delta State College and the University of Mississippi, Eggleston never received a college degree. However, it was during this time that his interest in photography took root. Eggleston was given a Leica camera by a friend at Vanderbilt. While studying art at Ole Miss, he was introduced to abstract expressionism by a visiting New York painter, Tom Young.
In 1976, Eggleston exhibited his works in the first solo exhibition of color photography at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. Color Photographs by William Eggleston, and its accompanying publication, William Egglestons Guide (after the Michelin Guide), caused something of a sensation among museum visitors and critics who found Egglestons use of color garish and his seemingly offhand approach antithetical to their expectations of art photography, which at the time was dominated by black and white images, printed in darkrooms as a sign of authorship and authenticity.
Colors in Egglestons early prints were intensified by the dye-transfer process, a printing technique developed by Kodak in the 1940s in which a succession of three color separations produces richly saturated and color-stable prints. Once prevalent in advertising and fashion photography, Kodaks dye-transfer technique allowed the artist to not only paint or direct the intensity of color in his prints, but also to mingle art and commerce.
Eggleston has frequently produced groups of photographs as cohesive units, either as a series made at a specific site for a project or for a commission. Included in Anointing the Overlooked are seven photographs reproduced in William Egglestons Guide, among them the iconic Memphis (Tricycle) (ca. 1971). Selections from two series of the early 1980s, The Southern Suite and Troubled Waters, are also included in the exhibition. Finally, a large group of rarely seen photographs made after 2000 reveals Egglestons continued interest in showing the everyday in a new light. These later works amplify the sharp colors and limpid atmospheres of his earlier imagery, while showing Eggleston as an artist who continues to expand his startling vision. Accompanying the exhibition will be a selection of album and compact disk covers featuring Egglestons imagery. These were created for various musiciansAlex Chilton, Spoon, Big Star, Chuck Prophet, Silver Jews, Primal Scream, Christopher Idylls, Joanna Newsom, and The Derek Trucks Band.
William Eggleston: Anointing the Overlooked demonstrates that Eggleston, most celebrated for his photographs of the American South, is equally at ease across the country and around the world. Egglestons motivation for making color photography was simple and decidedly unpretentious. He wanted to see a lot of things in color because the world is in color. Unlike many photographers who take hundreds of photographs of a subject in order to achieve the perfect image, Eggleston is an artist with personal discipline who makes one picture of one thing. That picture may be a sign by the side of the road or just the side of the road. A person nicely dressed or just a dress.
Eggleston reminds us not to take anything for granted Dr. Edwards concludes. His photographs trigger connections, conjure memories and remind us always to check under the bed before going to sleep.