Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
William Eggleston took the photography world by storm with his 1976 exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, the first one-person show of color photography at a museum in New York. The attendant publication William Eggleston's Guide introduced his work to an even wider audience and was especially influential for young photographers.
Eggleston was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and for most of his life has remained in the Mississippi Delta area, where he has photographed extensively. He started making photographs as a teenager, but it was not until about 1962, when he discovered the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson and other masters, that he was inspired to pursue the medium with greater dedication. Though Eggleston initially worked in black-and-white, as any serious photographer of his generation did, by the late 1960s he started experimenting with color, which at the time was considered a predominantly commercial medium that was not accepted into the established vocabulary of artistic expression until 1970s. Eggleston was attracted to color because of its lushness as well as its ability to be truer to life, and his pictures caused nothing short of a revolution.
In addition to the sensation created by his use of the color medium, Eggleston's habit of "photographing democratically" was also controversial. He rejected the idea of banality and believed that the visual richness of the world made utterly ordinary subjects worthy of scrutiny by the camera's lens, as this example from a gift of five photographs attests. His picture of a tricycle, which appeared in the 1976 New York show, monumentalizes a child's rusting toy parked on the sidewalk. In another photograph, a plastic Christmas candle on the counter of a diner is presented as being as interesting as the nearby vase of flowers and the palm tree that echo its shape. Katherine Ware, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), p. 143.