A native Southerner raised on a cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta, Eggleston has created a singular portrait of his native South since the late 1960s. After discovering photography in the early 1960s, he abandoned a traditional education and instead learned from photographically illustrated books by Walker Evans, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Robert Frank. Although he began his career making black-and-white images, he soon abandoned them to experiment with color technology to record experiences in more sensual and accurate terms at a time when color photography was largely confined to commercial advertising. In 1976 with the support of John Szarkowski, the influential photography historian, critic, and curator, Eggleston mounted “Color Photographs” a now famous exhibition of his work at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. William Eggleston’s Guide , in which Szarkowski called Eggleston’s photographs “perfect,” accompanied this groundbreaking one-person show that established his reputation as a pioneer of color photography. His subjects were mundane, everyday, often trivial, so that the real subject was seen to be color itself. These images helped establish Eggleston as one of the first non-commercial photographers working in color and inspired a new generation of photographers, as well as filmmakers.
Eggleston has published his work extensively. He continues to live and work in Memphis, and travels considerably for photographic projects. (x)
I don’t have a burning desire to go out and document anything. It just happens when it happens. It’s not a conscious effort, nor is it a struggle. Wouldn’t do it if it was. The idea of the suffering artist has never appealed to me. Being here is suffering enough.
“Gifted photographers, learning from the successes of their predecessors, quickly acquire the ability to recognize and anticipate certain aspects of subject matter, situation, perspective, and quality of light that might produce effective pictures. Original photographers enlarge this shared sense of possibilities by discovering new patterns of facts that will serve as metaphors for their intentions. The continuing, cumulative insights of these exceptional artists have formed and reformed photography’s tradition: a new pictorial vocabulary, based on the specific, the fragmentary, the elliptical, the ephemeral, and the provisional. This new tradition has revised our sense of what in the world is meaningful and our understanding of how the meaningful can be described.”