William Eggleston

untitled (Kentucky)

1993. Printed 1999.
C-type print, edition 27/30
410mm x 600mm

signed William Eggleston in graphite lower right; Eggleston Artistic Trust certificate affixed verso

Provenance

Private Collection, Wellington.
Acquired from Carolina Nitsch, New York.

Essay

The American photographer William Eggleston, born in 1939, is well known for his neutral, dispassionate gaze that finds art in the most mundane of subjects. Inspired by the Swis...

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Estimate $4,500 - $5,500
Achieved $2,462.25

William Eggleston

untitled (Kentucky)

1993. Printed 1999.

C-type print, edition 27/30

signed William Eggleston in graphite lower right; Eggleston Artistic Trust certificate affixed verso

410mm x 600mm

Auction N˚2

Estimate $4,500 - $5,500

Achieved $2,462.25

Eggleston’s “Democratic Camera”

by Martin Patrick

The American photographer William Eggleston, born in 1939, is well known for his neutral, dispassionate gaze that finds art in the most mundane of subjects. Inspired by the Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank’s outsider views of American life, and Henri Cartier-Bresson’s book The Decisive Moment(1952), which stresses the significance of the spontaneous, Eggleston’s artistic development took place largely at a remove from the mainstream. In 1965 he made the then-unusual decision of transitioning to colour photography. At the time (and, to an extent, even today) black and white was the preferred photographic medium, both for its formal qualities and because of its historical status as the medium of “classical” photography. Eggleston was one of the pioneers who convinced art institutions to take colour photography seriously. When John Szarkowski, Director of Photography at New York’s MoMA, first saw Eggleston’s early colour work the following year, he recalled a suitcase of “drugstore colour prints,” but, recognising Eggleston’s talent, prevailed upon MoMA to purchase the work. In 1973-4 Eggleston taught at Harvard, adopted high quality dye transfer printing, and in 1976 had his first major show at MoMA, where he met his partner of many years, Warhol muse Viva. Eastman Kodak stopped making the chemicals used in dye transfer printing in 1992. No other photographic process, not even inkjet printing, has as broad a colour and tonal scale.

Untitled (Kentucky), a Fuji crystal archive print from 1983, is one of an edition of thirty published for sale by the Whitney Museum in New York. In the 1980s and ‘90s Eggleston made several suites documenting his native American South (he was born in Memphis, Tennessee and raised in Mississippi), mining the banal for moments of beauty—his so-called “democratic camera,” which may owe something to the influence of Warhol’s Factory. This particular photograph, which displays a hint of Southern Gothic style, self-consciously signals its location via the clichés of Dixie vernacular; the red barn, the galloping white horse (Kentucky is famous for its race horses), and the expanse of Kentucky bluegrass. Eggleston used to quip that his compositions were based on the Confederate Flag, perhaps echoing its strong diagonals.

This image knowingly presses our buttons, but for all Modernism’s condemnation of sentiment, it remains a legitimate response to the emotion and experience of human existence. This is not the work of a photographer who indulges in postmodern irony. Despite the drama, the photo depicts a still, calm scene typical of the artist’s work. Eggleston once said of his work that his nominal subjects were merely excuses to make colour photographs. Szarkowski called this “the Degas position.” “Things don’t matter,” the artist once said to novelist Donna Tartt, “I don’t take pictures of things.” The image is composed around boldly-deployed primaries: red, blue and green. The horse, like something out of a Romantic painting, nearly invisible in the muted distance, is the centre of the composition. An anonymous, out-of-focus, foregrounded arm barely draws our attention to the horse, pointing at it in a languidly baroque gesture. Like Keats’ Grecian urn, the scene is timeless and perfect.