William Eggleston

Posted: May 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: art sur canapé: exhibition reviews | Tags: , , | No Comments »

There is no particular reason to search for meaning.” William Eggleston


Untitled, 1965-68

William Eggleston is literally photographing the world around him.
The current show at the Fondation Cartier in Paris was the perfect opportunity to pay tribute to the great photographer.
Three years ago, the Fondation Cartier commissioned him to photograph Paris, a city so often depicted in photography (possibly too much?). The French capital has become an icon in itself. The task was not easy, even for Eggleston who already documented Paris on different occasions. He cleverly avoids the romantic cliché by “approaching it as if it is just anywhere“, as he states in the exhibition catalogue. No famous monuments, no Parisian romantic couples kissing. Instead, almost abstract close-up photographs of graffiti, garbage and shop’s neons. 70 pictures were selected for the show at the Fondation Cartier. Eggleston says he didn’t try to avoid clichés in a conscious way. “I didn’t change my style for Paris. I just did as always, used the same approach.”

His large-format prints give credit to everyday subjects, every detail deserves attention, whatever it is a red ceiling in a friend’s house or a farmer’s Ford truck. He knows how to capture the beauty in commonplaces we even not notice. His first snapshots of everyday life in the Deep South were criticized for being “perfectly banal” though.
Since then, he is also acknowledged as a master of Color, using saturated shades since the beginning. Most surprisingly they are not studio-manipulated. “Everything must work in concert,” he says. “Composition is important but so are many other things, from content to the way colours work with or against each other.”
He supposedly never shoots a subject twice, he doesn’t want the model to strike a pose in this respect, which shows his grasp of composition.


Memphis, c. 1969-70

William Eggleston was raised mostly by his grandparents (his father being in the Navy, his parents stayed mostly at the military base). As a kid, he was first introduced to photography by his grandfather, who had his own darkroom. But he really got interested in taking pictures years later, when he attended college. In 1959 he discovered the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson with The Decisive Moment. He was impressed by the good quality of the prints and by the depiction of the subject from an oblique angle, instead of the traditional front view.
When he started using color photography in the mid-60’s, it was still the reign of black-and-white prints in the artistic context. Color photography was reserved for advertising and journalism, mainly because the clients had money to pay for the expensive developing. So it was mainly considered as a commercial medium.
Eggleston’s pictures are often taken from unconventional perspectives. The picture of a red ceiling below (which became an icon for Eggleston’s work) is a good example as our gaze unusually goes upward in the room.


Untitled (Greenwood, Mississipi), 1974

The night of the opening of his show in Paris, William Eggleston sat down in front of the piano which is displayed at the entrance of the downstairs gallery (Eggleston is an accomplished pianist). He played a few tunes then grabbed a cigarette from his pocket. It seems that Memphis’ spirit was not far away…

American photographer born 1939 in Memphis, Tenessee.
Still lives and works in Memphis, but travels considerably for his projects.

William Eggleston: Paris is at the Fondation Cartier, Paris, until June 21.

Official site of William Eggleston:

Fondation Cartier:


Untitled, Paris series, 2006-2008