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William Eggleston: Los Alamos

February 6 - May 15, 2005


(above: William Eggleston, Memphis, ca. 1971-74, dye-transfer print, 16 x 20 inches. © 2004 Eggleston Artistic Trust)


The Dallas Museum of Art is presenting an exhibition of 88 photographs taken by William Eggleston between 1964 and 1974 in William Eggleston: The Los Alamos Project, Feb. 6, 2005 through May 15, 2005.  The photographs in the exhibition are part of a portfolio that is considered this master photographer's first work, and helped establish color photography as a serious artistic medium.

Dallas is the final venue of an international tour for William Eggleston: The Los Alamos Project, which was organized by the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany. The exhibition is currently on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the only other venue in the United States. (above: William Eggleston, Memphis, ca. 1965-68, dye-transfer print, 16 x 20 inches. © 2004 Eggleston Artistic Trust)

Eggleston's inventive use of color and spontaneous compositions profoundly influenced the generation of photographers that followed him, as well as critics, curators, and writers concerned with photographs.  Although he didn't invent the process, Eggleston is known as the "Father of Color Photography." He used a dye-transfer process that was radically new at the time but has now been bypassed by more recent technology. The process allowed Eggleston to print photographs of intense color and to control his palette in a manner similar to a painter controlling oil paint.

He worked from a philosophy that he called the "democratic camera," which gives every element in the image equal importance. The spontaneity of the photograph allows chance to play a role in the final outcome. Unusually tight cropping and shallow spatial depth add to the emotional intensity conveyed by Eggleston's photographs.

"The work is an incredible use of color at a time when color photographs were not considered high art," said Charles Wylie, the Museum's Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art. "His influence has been incalculable on artists' thinking about photography as a tool to use in their work. There is also a time-capsule effect of the work, of a world that existed at one point and will not return­­not nostalgia, but evidence beautifully presented.

"Initially, Eggleston planned to create a compendium of more than 2,000 photographs to be contained in 20 volumes; his aim was to make the viewer look at photographs the way one looks at the world. But he abandoned the project, and hardly any of the negatives were ever printed. Now, 30 years later, a selection of this idiosyncratic encyclopedia of southern everyday life and vernacular culture is available to be seen.

"Los Alamos itself figures in the works but is not the sole subject," said Wylie. "That would be the American South and Southwest of the 1960s and early 70s. Eggleston has an incredible talent at finding something visually arresting in the most mundane of scenarios. In critical circles it's currently not done to speak on an artist's 'eye,' but Eggleston's eye is brilliant in allowing him to make some of the most riveting photographic images we have."

William Eggleston: The Los Alamos Project is complemented by a catalogue with 97 full-color images. The hardcover catalogue is available in the Museum Store. (above: William Eggleston, Memphis, ca. 1965-1968, dye-transfer print, 16 x 20 inches. © 2004 Eggleston Artistic Trust)


About the Artist

A native of Mississippi, Eggleston first experimented with his photographic technique in Memphis, where he lived at the time. He later traveled throughout the South, either alone or with artistic friends including actor-director Dennis Hopper and museum curator Walter Hopps. His first foray took place between 1964 and 1968, followed by a second between 1972 and 1974.

In 1976, Eggleston's color photographs were featured in a solo exhibition in New York's Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition, entitled Guide, resulted in a hardcover book called William Eggleston's Guide." John Szarkowski, who curated Eggleston's exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, referred to Eggleston's pictures as "perfect."

Although he had developed an interest in photography as a child, Eggleston was inspired to study the medium at the University of Mississippi after discovering the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. He also attended Delta State College in Mississippi and graduated from Vanderbilt University in Nashville.


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