“21st Century” is an exhibition of new work by photographer William Eggleston, which is being shown concurrently at both the Victoria Miro Gallery in London and Cheim & Read in New York.
William Eggleston is one of the most influential photographers of the last half-century. Born in 1939, Eggleston has lived and worked in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee throughout most of his sixty-year career. Hailed as the father of colour photography, his ability to find beauty in the banal has changed the way we look at the world. Along with Gary Winogrand and Lee Friedlander, Eggleston forms part of a generation of post-war photographers whose works liberated the medium from the restrictive rules and conventions of the period. A Southerner raised on a cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta, Eggleston has created a singular portrait of his native South. His colour prints monumentalise the everyday: the parking lots, diners, motel rooms and lives of the people of his native environment. Behind Eggleston’s deceptive casualness lies an acute and instinctive sense of colour and form, and under his gaze the ordinary is invested with powerful significance.
21st Century presents new photographs with increasingly abstracted compositions. Many have collage-like elements – a wreath-toting Santa Claus on a windowpane, close-ups of patterned rolls of vinyl – further manipulating the traditional understanding of “straight” photography. Through abstraction, Eggleston links his photographic work to his work in other mediums. In fact, his concern for a contained pictorial statement, as opposed to a documentary reflection of the world, more closely aligns him to a painter’s artistic practice. His continued artistic exploration – in drawing and photography – informs an oeuvre rich with emotional sensitivity.
Eggleston’s ground-breaking use of color was both controversial and celebrated at a time when black-and-white was standard for “art” photography. In the mid-1960’s, color photography was mostly used for commercial advertisements and journalism, but had also become accessible to the average consumer, allowing people to take color snap shots of friends and family. Eggleston was deeply inspired by the unplanned compositions of “ordinary” pictures, and saw in them an ability to access an intimacy and narrative voice unguarded by the carefully planned exposures of art photography’s prevailing canon. His images, some 40 years later, continue to offer an intimate and personal sensibility of the world he documents.