18
May
10

Exhibition: ‘William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008′ at The Art Institute of Chicago

Exhibition dates: 27th February – 23rd May 2010

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THE classic William Eggleston, the one and only. Feel the heat of sun on body. Look at the construction of the image plane, all angles and fractures. The slight movement of the woman’s hand as she sits on a cracked yellow wall. The distance between her body and the metal pole with wrapped chain and padlock, that ice/fire tension as Minor White would say. Man with gun vs melancholy monochromatic self portrait, the reverie of the lone thinker. Colour and light as emotional sounding board, “color as a means of discovery and expression, and as a way to highlight aspects of life hidden in plain sight.” This is what Eggleston points his democratic camera at – life hidden in plain sight, revealed in all its intricacies, in all its mundanity and glory.

Many thankx to Chai Lee and The Art Institute of Chicago for allowing to me reproduce the photographs in this posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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William Eggleston
Untitled
n.d.
from Los Alamos, 1965-68 and 1972-74 (published 2003.) 1965-68 and 1972-74.
Dye transfer print, 17 3/4 x 12 in. (45.1 x 30.5 cm.)
Private collection.
© Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.

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William Eggleston
Untitled
n.d.
from Los Alamos, 1965-68 and 1972-74 (published 2003.) 1965-68 and 1972-74.
Dye transfer print, 17 ¾ x 12 inches (45.1 x 30.5 cm.)
Private collection.
© Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York.

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William Eggleston
Memphis
c. 1969-71
from William Eggleston’s Guide, 1976, c. 1969-71.
Dye transfer print, 24 x 20 in (61 x 50.8 cm.)
Collection of John Cheim.
© Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.

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William Eggleston
Morton, Mississippi
c. 1969-70
from William Eggleston’s Guide, 1976, c. 1969-70.
Dye transfer print, 13 3/8 x 8 11/16 in (34 x 22 cm.)
Cheim & Read, New York.
© Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.

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William Eggleston
Huntsville, Alabama
1971
from William Eggleston’s Guide, 1976, 1971.
Dye transfer print, 20 x 15 7/8 in (50.8 x 40.3 cm.)
University of Mississippi Museum and Historic Houses, Oxford.
© Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.

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William Eggleston
Untitled
n.d.
from Los Alamos, 1965-68 and 1972-74 (published 2003.) 1965-68 and 1972-74.
Dye transfer print, 17 ¾ x 12 in (45.1 x 30.5 cm.)
Private collection.
© Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.

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William Eggleston
Untitled
n.d.
from Los Alamos, 1965-68 and 1972-74 (published 2003.) 1965-68 and 1972-74.
Dye transfer print, 17 3/4 x 12 in. (45.1 x 30.5 cm.)
Private collection.
© Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.

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“The unconventional beauty and artistry of works by photographer William Eggleston will be showcased in a major exhibition opening at the Art Institute of Chicago this winter. William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008 – on view from February 27 through May 23, 2010, in the Modern Wing’s Abbott Galleries (G182, G184) and Carolyn S. and Matthew Bucksbaum Gallery (G188) – is the most comprehensive retrospective to date of the Memphis-based contemporary photographer. The exhibition brings together more than 150 extraordinary images of familiar, everyday subjects with lesser-known, early black-and-white prints and provocative video recordings, all produced over a five-decade period.

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 came across photo books by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans. Among his earliest pictures, 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 members.

By the 1960s and early 1970s he had begun experimenting with color film, and he eventually produced rich, vivid prints through the dye transfer process – prints that are created through the alignment of three separate 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. Hence, Eggleston is often credited for single-handedly ushering in the era of color art photography.

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 – MoMA’s first solo show to feature 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.

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. His iconic images such as Elvis’s Graceland, a supermarket clerk corralling grocery carts in the afternoon sunlight, and a freezer stuffed with food proves that the photographer points his “democratic camera” at everything. Eggleston’s quiet, thoughtful pictures have profoundly impacted subsequent generations of photographers, filmmakers, and scholars.

The exhibition also includes Eggleston’s cult video work, Stranded in Canton. 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.

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. By not censoring, rarely editing, and always photographing even the seemingly banal, Eggleston convinces us completely of the idea of the democratic camera.”

Press release from the Art Institute of Chicago website

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William Eggleston
Untitled (Memphis, Tennessee)
1971
from 14 Pictures, 1974, 1971.
Dye transfer print, 15 7/8 x 19 15/16 in (40.3 x 50.6 cm.)
Collection of Adam Bartos.
© Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1970
from Los Alamos, 1965-68 and 1972-74 (published 2003.) 1965-68 and 1972-74.
Dye transfer print, 16 x 20 in. (40.6 x 50.8 cm.)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchased with funds from the Photography Committee 2009.79.
© Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1975
Dye transfer print, 16 x 20 in (40.6 x 50.8 cm.)
Cheim & Read, New York
© Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.

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William Eggleston
Untitled
c. 1971-73
from Troubled Waters, 1980, c. 1971-73.
Dye transfer print, 15 7/8 x 19 15/16 in (40.3 x 50.6 cm.)
Collection Marcia Dunn and Jonathan Sobel.
© Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.

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William Eggleston
Untitled
n.d.
from Los Alamos, 1965-68 and 1972-74 (published 2003.) 1965-68 and 1972-74.
Dye transfer print, 12 x 17 ¾ inches (30.5 x 45.1 cm.)
Private collection
© Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York.

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William Eggleston
Untitled
n.d.
from Las Alamos, 1965-68 and 1972-74 (published in 2003.) 1965-68 and 1972-74.
Dye transfer print, 12 x 17 ¾ inches (30.5 x 45.1 cm.)
Private collection
© Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York.

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William Eggleston
Untitled
n.d.
from Los Alamos, 1965-68 and 1972-74 (published 2003.) 1965-68 and 1972-74.
Dye transfer print, 12 x 17 3/4 in. (30.5 x 45.1 cm.)
Private collection
© Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.

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The Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60603-6404
(312) 443-3600

Opening hours:
Monday–Wednesday, 10:30–5:00
Thursday, 10:30–8:00 (Free Admission 5:00–8:00, member-only access to Matisse)
Friday, 10:30–8:00
Saturday–Sunday, 10:00–5:00
The museum is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s days.

The Art Institute of Chicago website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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