William Eggleston didn’t invent color photography, but his landmark 1976 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art gave it dignity, and began the four-decade process of acceptance by curators and collectors as an art form to rival oil painting.
Shot in 1970, “Untitled (Memphis)” – shown above – was one of the 75 photos in the show, and also featured on the cover of the catalogue. Now it’s included in a retrospective of Eggleston’s early work at the Metropolitan.
It was a smart move, especially given that he couldn’t appeal to ‘craft’, as photography curators reflexively did in those days: Unlike the hand-processed black-and-white prints of Edward Steichen or Ansel Adams, these pictures were made in a lab using the dye-transfer technique developed for commercial advertising.
There was nothing artsy about their production. It was simply the best method for Eggleston to achieve the ultra-saturated effect he sought – and it was just what photography needed to become truly modern.
Eggleston’s ’70s sacrilege led to today’s epic c-prints by masters such as Andreas Gursky. Paradoxically photographers had to be unpainterly – appropriating industrial processes – in order for the public to see photography as the equal of painting.
About the author: Jonathon Keats is an artist and critic who has had his conceptual artwork exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. He regularly writes for Forbes in his Critic-at-Large column. More recently, Keats authored the book “Forged: Why Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age“. This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.
Image credit: “Untitled (Memphis)”, 1970 by William Eggleston. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2012.281). © Eggleston Artistic Trust