17
Aug
12

Exhibition: ‘Before Color: William Eggleston’ at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam

Exhibition dates: 16th June – 26th August 2012

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“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”

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Sean O’Hagan

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These are magnificent, intelligent photographs. They are works from the master that show that Eggleston found his own style early on. His understanding of the “quietness” of space and form within the picture plane is already fully developed and his aesthetic decision to use grainy, black and white high speed film just adds to the stillness and eeriness of the photographs. His signature style, his unique messianic voice, really shines through in these recently discovered images which could be seen to be BC – before the beginning of colour (photography) as eulogised by the museum establishment.

Highlights in these photographs include:

  • The pose of the women caught mid-stride, about to put the telephone back in its cradle
  • The man and the woman frozen mid-conversation in a minimal hotel lobby(?) with the shroud of a dark man on the plaque behind
  • The barren hotel room with old air conditioner, vinyl chair, floral bedspread and newspapers strewn over the floor (remeniscent of the spaces of so many of his later colour photographs)
  • And my favourite, Untitled (1960, below), the bulk of the heavy car looming out of the murk at the bottom of the picture frame, the intransigent windscreen wipers, the rain and the blurred traffic moving behind. You can almost touch and taste the atmosphere of this moment, in this day, of that year…

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The wondrous thing is that Eggleston’s voice transfers beautifully through into the saturation of his later colour dye-transfer prints. His pared down vision of life and world become unmistakably his own in the colour photographs. Unlike the Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama, whose panache in his black and white photographs is matched only by the shallowness of his colour work, here Eggleston lays the ground work for the rest of his monumental career.

Great to see these early photographs. I’m so glad they found them!

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Many thankx to the Nederlands Fotomuseum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs to view a larger version of the image.

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Vegard Kleven, Oslo

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1966
Private collection, Oslo. Courtesy Peder Lund
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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“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 will be on display from 16 June until 26 August.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.”

Press release from the Nederlands Fotomuseum website

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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William Eggleston
Untitled
Nd
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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William Eggleston
Untitled
Nd
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Private collection, Oslo. Courtesy Peder Lund
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Private collection, Oslo. Courtesy Peder Lund
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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Nederlands Fotomuseum
Wilhelminakade 332
3072 AR Rotterdam
The Netherlands

Opening hours
Tuesday to Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 11 am -5 pm
Free entrance on Wednesday

Nederlands Fotomuseum 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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