William Eggleston American, 1939-
William Eggleston took a serious interest in photography when he discovered the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans while a student at Vanderbilt University in 1962. Like Cartier-Bresson, Eggleston's photographs rely heavily on ironic formal juxtapositions, with the added consideration of color. His work also depends on the banality of his subjects: the familiar people and places of his native Memphis and northern Mississippi. Like snapshots, his photographs are candid and commonplace, though they lack the snapshot's posed artifice and sentimental associations. Instead, Eggleston relies on straightforward documentation to effect a cool, often uncanny, distance between viewer and subject.
Eggleston was among the first photographers to work regularly with new color technologies of the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1967 he presented his work using color negative film to John Szarkowski, then director of the department of photographs at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Nine years later Szarkowski organized Eggleston's first solo exhibition at that museum, 75 dye transfer prints.
In 1977 Caldecot Chubb, a close friend and supporter, published Eggleston's monograph Election Eve, which included work based on Alexander Gardner's Sketchbook of the Civil War. In 1978 Eggleston was invited to conduct research in color video at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His awards include fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation (1974) and the National Endowment for the Arts (1975, 1978). He has photographed in Kenya (1980), Berlin, Salzburg, and Graz for his series Kiss Me Kracow (1983), Egypt (1986), England for the series English Rose (1988), the Transvaal (1989), and Spain (1990). He has also received commissions to shoot on location for John Huston's film Annie (1982), David Byrne's True Stories (1986), and throughout Elvis Presley's mansion, Graceland (1983). A major monograph, The Democratic Forest, was released in 1989, with an introduction by Eudora Welty. Eggleston also collaborated with writer Willie Morris on Faulkner's Mississippi, a book of photographs and accompanying text (1990). Eggleston lives in Memphis. A.W.