|The American photographer William Eggleston (b. 1937) is one of the artistic pioneers of colour photography, and since the very beginning of his career he has been a controversial figure in the art world. In 1976, when the Museum of Modern Art in New York showed his colour photographs for the first time, the exhibition was soon designated ‘most hated of the year’. |
The influential New York Times reviewer Hilton Kramer wrote for example, in a comment on the catalogue’s description of Eggleston’s pictures as “perfect” : “Perfect? Perfectly banal, perhaps. Perfectly boring, certainly.” His intense snapshots fell between the established categories: they belonged neither to the coloristic ‘art photo’ that situated itself close to the painting of the period, nor to the black-and-white ‘photo art’ of the traditional realist school.
Today, though, Eggleston is a classic of photographic art and a source of inspiration to many important younger artists like Nan Goldin, Andreas Gursky and Wolfgang Tillmans.
On a journey through New Mexico in 1973 Eggleston passed the remote township of Los Alamos, the place where a clutch of the world’s leading physicists – Robert Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr, Richard Feynman, Edward Teller and many others – secretly developed the atom bomb in the years 1943-45.
He chose the highly-charged place name as the title for a large-scale study of the potential of the colour photograph. With his friends, the museum curator Walter Hopps and the actor Dennis Hopper, he had scoured the whole of the southern USA, and with his characteristic snapshot aesthetic had captured the props and icons of everyday American life: Cadillacs, billboards, Coca-Cola ads, drive-in cinemas, parking lots, suburban supermarkets etc.
Yet the apparently random and intrinsically almost meaningless motifs are always just a starting-point for Eggleston’s artistic interpretations.
During the development process he manipulates and intensifies the colours of the pictures so that the finished photos – despite the fundamental banality of the subject – appear with an oddly disturbing and almost supernatural beauty.
The pictures in the Los Alamos series were taken in the period 1966-1974, but are presented together for the first time with this exhibition, initiated by Museum Ludwig in Cologne, and the accompanying catalogue publication.
Louisiana Museum of Art Web Site