by Sara Estes/ May 2016
Art writer, Gallery Assistant – David Lusk Gallery
Photography by Sheri Oneal
Artist Bio: William Eggleston
Born in 1939 in Memphis, Tennessee, photographer William Eggleston is known as a pioneer of color photography, and his work has been instrumental in legitimizing the medium as fine art. In 1976 with the support of John Szarkowski, the influential photography historian, critic, and curator, Eggleston mounted Color Photographs, a now famous exhibition of his work at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. His subjects are mundane, everyday, often trivial, so that the real subject is seen to be color itself. His widely collected, exhibited, and published images have inspired a new generation of photographers, as well as filmmakers. He continues to live and work in Memphis and travels considerably for photographic projects.
My favorite painting is not actually a painting, but a photograph by William Eggleston. Like many of Eggleston’s photographs, Untitled (Baby Doll Cadillac, 1973) from the Los Alamos portfolio is a work of art I return to again and again.
Widely regarded as the father of color photography, Eggleston approaches his work much like a painter. His photographs rely less on their subject matter and more on the careful juxtaposition of color, light, texture, and form. I’ve always loved looking at his work through a lens of painting and color theory.
There’s a special place in my heart for this particular photograph. Not only is it so quintessentially Eggleston—punchy, cryptic, and perfectly balanced—but it’s also the image that initially turned me on to his work. It was on the cover of one of my favorite albums, Alex Chilton’s Like Flies on Sherbert (1979), which I discovered while living in Memphis in my early twenties. After coming across a few more photographs, I began to dig further into Eggleston’s oeuvre and fell in love with the singularly dreamy, wanton world his images construct.
Seeing the photograph in person at his 2011 retrospective at the Frist Center, William Eggleston: Anointing the Overlooked, only made me love it more. Everything works: the deep, seductive blue of the sky; the repeated triangular composition; the implied lines of the dolls’ sight and arm gestures; the oceanic tone of the Cadillac, one of his most common subjects. I’m endlessly struck with how the dolls seem to gaze out at the viewer with an eerie air of mystery, mischief, and conspiracy. I feel this is one of those iconic images that will continue to intrigue and inspire us for centuries to come.