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Nederlands Fotomuseum highlights famous photographer William Eggleston's earliest work
Untitled, Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo 1960. Foto: William Eggleston. Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Vegard Kleven, Oslo.

ROTTERDAM.- The American photographer William Eggleston (1939) is known as one of the first major pioneers of artistic colour photography. His book William Eggleston's Guide was one of the most influential photography books of the 20th century and still inspires many today. Eggleston's black-and-white photographs are less well-known. In Before Color, the Nederlands Fotomuseum highlights this famous photographer's earliest work, which was only recently discovered. The photographs show that Eggleston found his own style early on. Inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eggleston used a 35mm camera and fast black-and-white film to photograph the American way of life in the early 1960s. We see his own surroundings: suburban Memphis, with its diners, car parks and supermarkets, as well as the houses and domestic interiors of the people who lived there. Before Color by William Eggleston is on display from 16 June until 26 August.

Black-and-white snapshots
When Eggleston started taking photographs in the early 1960s, he was particularly inspired by the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and his book The Decisive Moment from 1952. Contrary to the big names in American photography at the time – who were preoccupied with the stunning landscape, like Ansel Adams -Cartier-Bresson took snapshots of everyday life. Eggleston found this approach very appealing. Using a 35mm camera and fast black-and-white film he began photographing his own surroundings. These were predominantly shaped by suburban Memphis, with its diners, car parks and supermarkets, but he also focused on the houses and domestic interiors of the people who lived there.

Breaking a tradition
At the same time Eggleston experimented with colour photography. Together with Joel Meyerowitz, Joel Sternfeld and others, he broke the long tradition of black-and-white photography by working in colour and focusing on subjects from daily life. In 1972 he completed an extensive series of 2,200 photographs entitled Los Alamos, which provided a unique picture of life in America in the '60s and early '70s. He discovered the deep and saturated colours of the so-called dye-transfer printing technique, originally a commercial application that he perfected and that would become his international trademark. His first solo exhibition in 1976 was also the first exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art devoted to colour photography. The exhibition was accompanied by what would become the acclaimed and influential book William Eggleston's Guide.

“As these rediscovered prints reveal, the man who made colour photography into an artform worked brilliantly in monochrome – and his eye for unsettling detail is every bit as sharp”
– Sean O’Hagan, The Guardian

Before color
Eggleston would later abandon black-and-white film altogether and his earliest work was forgotten. So it was a surprise when a box of his black-and-white photographs was recently found in the archives of the William Eggleston Artistic Trust in Memphis. The photographs were exhibited for the first time in 2010 at the Cheim & Read Gallery in New York and published in the book Before Color (Steidl, 2010).

Before Color exhibition
This is the first time that Before Color has been exhibited in the Netherlands and includes nearly 40 photographs from William Eggleston's early career. The images show that Eggleston found his personal style and photographic motifs early on and provide a wonderful picture of the American way of life in suburban Memphis in the 1960s. The exhibition was realised in cooperation with Peder Lund, Oslo.

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