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LACMA Presents Most Comprehensive U.S. Retrospective of Photographer William Eggleston
William Eggleston, Untitled, c. 1970, from Los Alamos, 1965-68 and 1972-74. Dye-transfer print; 12 x 17 3/4 in. Private Collection. © Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.
LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents William Eggleston: Democratic Camera—Photographs and Video, 1961–2008, the most comprehensive U.S. retrospective of the Memphis-based contemporary photographer. The exhibition traces the artist’s evolution over a five-decade-period and brings together more than 200 photographs, including his iconic images of familiar, everyday subjects in addition to lesser-known, early black-and-white prints and provocative video recordings. A key figure in American photography, Eggleston is credited with nearly single-handedly ushering in the era of color photography. His inventive use of color and spontaneous compositions have profoundly influenced subsequent generations of photographers, filmmakers, and viewers. LACMA’s presentation is the first Los Angeles retrospective of the artist in more than three decades and will be on view October 31, 2010 through January 16, 2011.

“Eggleston is a master of color photography, whose extraordinary sense of spontaneity, innovative viewpoints, and rendering of modern synthetic hues makes vivid the otherwise overlooked details of ordinary life. His unflinching portrayal of quintessentially American scenes such as supermarkets, drive-ins, sidewalks, and parking lots is one of the defining achievements of contemporary photographic practice,” said Edward Robinson, associate curator of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department, who organized LACMA’s presentation.

William Eggleston: Democratic Camera—Photographs and Video, 1961–2008 demonstrates Eggleston’s “democratic” approach to his photographic subjects in both color and black-and-white. Everything that happens in front of the camera is worthy of becoming a picture for the artist—no matter how seemingly circumstantial or trivial. Eggleston finds his motifs in everyday life, resulting in telling portrayals of American culture. An unparalleled chronicler of the American South, Eggleston has produced a veritable encyclopedia of the Southern vernacular. His focus has been primarily upon his native locales of Memphis, New Orleans, and the Mississippi River Delta. Highlights from the last twenty years include selections from the “Graceland” series and “The Democratic Forest,” Eggleston’s anthology of the quotidian. Exclusive to LACMA’s presentation is an expanded emphasis on Eggleston’s more recent work taken in the Los Angeles region, the employment of his photographs on numerous music album covers, and his inspiring influence on leading American filmmakers of today.

The exhibition also includes Eggleston’s cult video work, Stranded in Canton (1973-1974). In the 1960s, Eggleston used film to document Fred McDowell, a well-known Delta blues musician, but ultimately abandoned the film project. Eggleston later acquired a video camera and began using video to shoot in bars and in people’s homes; sometimes he shot monologues friends delivered for his video camera, most often at night. The result, Stranded in Canton, recently restored and re-edited, is a portrait of a woozy subculture that adds dimension and texture to the world of Eggleston’s color photographs.

Born in 1939 in Memphis, Tennessee, and raised on his family’s cotton plantation in Mississippi, William Eggleston held a casual interest in photography until 1959, when he discovered photo books by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans. Among his earliest works, made during stints at universities in Tennessee and Mississippi, were black-and-white scenes found in his native South, as well as portraits of friends and family.

By the 1960s and early 1970s, Eggleston had begun experimenting with color photography, and he eventually produced rich, vivid prints through the dye transfer process—prints that are created through the alignment of three separate dye matrices (cyan, magenta, and yellow) generated from three separate negatives (red, green, and blue filters). The resulting prints are known for the vividness and permanence of their colors. The psychological intensity of the saturated color in Eggleston’s pictures has had an enormous impact on the entire field of photography. As an influence, Eggleston has cited the Technicolor technique in the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

Eager to show his work to a broader audience, Eggleston traveled to New York with a suitcase of slides and prints to meet with Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) curator John Szarkowski. This visit eventually yielded a controversial but revolutionary exhibition in 1976—one of MoMA’s earliest solo shows devoted to color photographs—and a classic accompanying book, William Eggleston’s Guide. At this point in his career, Eggleston had already distinguished himself by treating color as a means of discovery and expression, and as a way to highlight aspects of life hidden in plain sight.

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. He has been commissioned for projects that range from the orange groves of the Transvaal to the studio lots of Hollywood to the streets of Kyoto.

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 in Munich, Germany. The exhibition is co-curated by Elisabeth Sussman, Sondra Gilman curator of photography at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and Thomas Weski, former deputy director of Haus der Kunst in Munich, now professor of the study of curatorial cultures at the Academy of Visual Arts, Leipzig.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art | William Eggleston | Edward Robinson |


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