J. Paul Getty Museum

The Getty Center

Los Angeles, CA




William Eggleston and the Color Tradition


William Eggleston and the Color Tradition, an exhibition exploring the art of American color photography over the last 30 years, will be on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum from October 26, 1999 through January 30, 2000. Organized by the Getty Museum, this three-part exhibition is based on the recent and promised gifts of Los Angeles collectors Nancy and Bruce Berman, Caldecot Chubb, and Michael and Jane Wilson. The exhibition features the work of William Eggleston, who played a significant role in establishing color photography as a serious art form in the 1970s. It also highlights more recent work by other American photographers working in the color tradition: Adam Bartos, Virginia Beahan and Laura McPhee, John Divola, Jim Dow, Mitch Epstein, Rhea Garen, William Greiner, Alex Harris, David Husom, Stephen Johnson, William Larson, and Joel Sternfeld.

While artists have experimented with various color processes since the mid-19th century (from hand-coloring to photomechanical printing to the crude color of early Kodak materials), it was not until the 1970s that the art of color photography came into its own. With the availability of new color negative film and improved printing papers in the 1960s, artists like Eggleston began experimenting with color to record experiences in more sensual and accurate terms. This color revolution was recognized in a significant 1976 exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art dedicated to Eggleston's work. Critical attitudes toward color photography have since shifted, giving it a widespread artistic legitimacy and ushering in a new generation of American photographers working in color.

The exhibition features 46 photographs by Eggleston and includes several of his most important works--Tricycle, Memphis, ca. 1968; Green Tile Shower, Memphis, ca. 1971; and Halloween Children, Morton, Mississippi, 1971. These images helped establish Eggleston as one of the first non-commercial photographers working in color and inspired a new generation of photographers. Many of the Eggleston images in this exhibition are gifts of Caldecot Chubb, whom Eggleston met in 1974. Their 25-year friendship has yielded numerous collaborative publications and exhibition projects. (left: William Eggleston (American, b. 1939), Memphis, about 1965-68, Dye transfer print, 1/4, 1980, Gift of Caldecot Chubb, 98.XM.232.1 Collection: J. Paul Getty Museum)

Eggleston was born in Memphis,Tennessee, in 1939 and grew up in the Mississippi Delta. After discovering photography in the early 1960s, he abandoned a traditional education and instead learned from photographically illustrated books by Walker Evans (American, 1903-75), Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, b. 1908), and Robert Frank (American, b. 1924). During the sixties, Eggleston moved away from the world of black-and-white photography and began to experiment in the less familiar, but more potent, realm of color technology. In his work, Eggleston assumes a neutral gaze and creates his art from commonplace subjects: a farmer's muddy Ford truck, a red ceiling in a friend's house, the contents of his own refrigerator. (right: William Eggleston (American, b. 1939), Morton, Mississippi, 1971, Dye transfer print, edition of 15, Gift of Caldecot Chubb, 98.XM.232.3 Collection: J. Paul Getty Museum)

A second component of the exhibition highlights photographs collected and donated by Nancy and Bruce Berman, providing a perspective on the rise of American color photography in the decades following Eggleston's 1976 exhibition in New York. The Bermans, great admirers of the work of Walker Evans, have built a distinctive collection of recent color photography following the tradition of documentary or "straight" photography perfected by Evans in the 1930s and '40s. Twenty-six works from the Berman collection represent 12 different artists and depict the richness of American color photography at the end of the 20th century.

Characteristic of the Bermans' collection is Alex Harris' series Red White Blue and God Bless You, documenting the culture of Hispanic northern New Mexico. Harris (b. 1949), a founder of Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies in North Carolina, lived for several years in New Mexico, recording scenes in the life of his adopted community. The vibrantly colored Amadeo Sandoval's Living Room, Rio Lucio, New Mexico is a study of how lived-in spaces bear the traces of their inhabitants--evidence of what Harris describes as the "human devotion to home." (left: Alex Harris (American, b. 1949), Amadeo Sandoval's Living Room, Rio Lucio, New Mexico, June 1985, Chromogenic print, 1993, Gift of Nancy & Bruce Berman, 98.XM.214.4 Collection: J. Paul Getty Museum)

The exhibition's third section is composed of selections from John Divola's 1977-78 Zuma Series. An art professor at the University of California at Riverside, Divola (b. 1949) used an abandoned and deteriorating lifeguard facility on a Los Angeles County beach as a stage on which to chronicle the natural cycle of decay and its opposite, creation--both enhanced by the artist's intervention. A promised gift of Michael and Jane Wilson, the entire series of 110 photographs will become part of the Getty collection. (left: John Divola (American, b. 1949), Zuma Number 3, plate 6, The Zuma Series. Portfolio One, 29/30, Dye transfer print, 1982, Promised gift of Michael and Jane Wilson, The Wilson Center for Photography, LLC, L. 99. XM. 44.6)

William Eggleston and the Color Tradition has been organized by Judith Keller, associate curator, and Mikka Gee, research assistant, in the Getty Department of Photographs.


Read more about the Getty (J. Paul) Museum in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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