William Eggleston is a very famous photographer who was born in 1939 in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, before being raised in Sumner, Mississippi.
He is widely regarded as “THE FATHER OF COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHY” due to his 1976 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, USA, which, at the time, was considered a disaster due to the art critics being outraged at such a thing as a colour photography exhibition being staged at such an establishment.
Even the legendary Henri Cartier-Bresson, who is one of Egglestons early influencers, said to him at a dinner party, “William, colour is bullshit”, to which Eggleston replied, “Excuse me”, before getting up and walking away.
Eggleston’s interest in photography started back when he was at university and a friend of his got him to buy a Canon camera. He says that he was fascinated by the medium right from the start.
His photography was, and still is, mainly shot using large-format and on Leica 35mm around the two places he knows best, Memphis and Mississippi. But, unlike most of us today, when he sees something he wants to shoot, he doesn’t spend ages setting it up before shooting several shots of the same thing. Instead, he sees it and shoots it, without even looking through the viewfinder at times.
The reason he gives for only taking one shot is simply because he felt he was wasting time, back when he did shoot several pictures of the same thing, looking through near identical shots and not being able to decide which was best.
When Eggleston was first introduced to photography, there weren’t any established photographers around for him to learn from, so he is all self-taught. He also built a darkroom in his dormitory during his university days and learnt to develop his own photos in it.
After spending the early part of his career shooting in black and white, like everybody else, he was introduced to colour in 1965 by William Christenberg. This was when he changed and started his legacy as a colour photographer.
Whilst teaching at Harvard during 1973-1974, Eggleston discovered a process called dye-transfer printing that was being used only in the advertising industry. He liked the strong colours it produced and decided to learn the process to enable him to put his own shots through it. It was this process that allowed him to achieve strong, striking colour photographs back in those days that no one had seen before in normal photography.
One of his most famous images is titled, “The Red Ceiling” and is a very simple shot of the ceiling at a friend’s house he happened to be at. The shot follows his style of simplistic imagery but is made exciting and interesting by the strong use of colour. It is the colour of his images that are very often the stars of the show.
Eggleston has said that The Red Ceiling is one of his most challenging images due to the deep red colour being so much in the shot. The challenge was getting all that red to look as good in an image as it did for real.
Eggleston is often referred to as the father of colour photography due to him being the first person to have colour photography exhibited at such a well-respected establishment as the Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA, but this is incorrect. It was the fact that it was so well publicised rather than him being the first. In fact, 30 years before Eggleston’s exhibition, Eliot Porter had a solo exhibition in colour there and 10 years before, so had Ernst Haas.
William Eggleston’s style has been to photograph ordinary, everyday items which people take for granted and then bring them into view with the use of his strong colours and processes.