When color photography first came onto the scene, many saw it as a novelty. “Serious” photographers continued to shoot only in Black & White. However a few photographers challenged that notion… the most famous is William Eggleston.
Born in 1939 in Memphis, Tennessee, Eggleston was raised by an engineer father and his mother. Eggleston was seen as introverted for much of his life and chose to ignore traditional Southern male pursuits of hunting and sports to instead focus on art.
While in college (a pursuit he never completed), Eggleston was introduced to photography. A friend gave him a Leica camera. His earliest influences were Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank and French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.
It was in 1965 when he first began to photograph in color. He sold his first photograph to the Museum of Modern Art in 1969 after a chance encounter. In 1970, he was introduced to the Corcoran Gallery. The director of the gallery said he was “stunned” by Eggleston’s work: “I had never seen anything like it.”
He went on to teach at Harvard. He was also an early experimenter with dye-transfer printing which produced very vivid colors (a process previously used for packaging consumer goods). His 1976 showing as MoMA was regarded as the watershed moment where color photography was accepted by the fine art world.
Eggleston often chose to focus on things that others ignored. He preferred ordinary subjects and documenting life around him. Many suggest that his work was influenced from the photorealist paintings that rose in popularity just before color photography.
I had this notion of what I called a democratic way of looking around, that nothing was more or less important.
Here’s a profile of him, a documentary of William Eggleston, filmed director Reiner Holzemer.