Over the course of nearly six decades, William Eggleston has established a singular pictorial style that deftly combines vernacular subject matter with an innate and sophisticated understanding of color, form, and composition. His photographs transform the ordinary into distinctive, poetic images that eschew fixed meaning. His 1976 solo exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, curated by John Szarkowski, marked one of the first presentations of color photography at the museum. Although initially criticized for its unfamiliar approach, the show and its accompanying catalogue, William Eggleston's Guide, heralded an important moment in the medium's acceptance within the art-historical canon, and it solidified the artist's position as one of its foremost practitioners to this date. Eggleston's work continues to exert an influence on contemporary visual culture at large.
Eggleston was born in 1939 in Memphis, Tennessee, where he continues to live today. Raised in Sumner, Mississippi, he attended Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee; Delta State College, Cleveland, Mississippi; and University of Mississippi, Oxford. In 2016, the artist joined David Zwirner. William Eggleston: The Democratic Forest, an exhibition of works drawn from the artist’s encyclopedic project, marked his first gallery solo show at the 537 West 20th Street location in New York. William Eggleston: 2 1/4 was on view in 2019 at David Zwirner, London. In 2020, a solo exhibition at the gallery's Hong Kong location marked the artist's debut solo presentation in Greater China.
Since the 1970s, Eggleston’s work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at prominent institutions worldwide, beginning with his groundbreaking 1976 show at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (traveled to Seattle Art Museum; Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Fredrick Wright Art Galleries, University of California at Los Angeles; Reed College, Portland, Oregon; and University of Maryland Art Gallery, College Park). Subsequent important solo presentations were held at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC in 1990; the Barbican Gallery, London in 1992 (traveled to Louisiana Museum, Humlebæk, Denmark; Folkwang Museum, Essen; and Fotomuseum Winterthur); documenta IX, Kassel, Germany in 2002; Museum Ludwig, Cologne in 2003 (traveled to Museu Serralves, Porto; Nasjonalmuseet – Museet for samstidkunst, Oslo; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Albertina, Vienna; and Dallas Museum of Art). In 2008, a major career-spanning survey, William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Videos 1961-2008 was organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and Haus der Kunst in Munich; it subsequently traveled to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
More recent exhibitions have included those held at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, 2009 (traveled to Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; and Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg, Sweden, both 2010); The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2013; Tate Modern, London, 2013; National Portrait Gallery, London, 2016 (traveled to National Gallery of Victoria [NGV], Melbourne, 2017); and Foam Fotografiemuseum, Amsterdam, 2017. In 2018, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, presented William Eggleston: Los Alamos, a solo exhibition featuring a landmark gift to the museum by Jade Lau of the artist's notable portfolio, Los Alamos. The selection comprises 75 dye transfer prints from color negatives taken on trips through the American South between 1965 and 1974. On view from August 11 through November 15, 2020, the solo presentation In Focus: Election Eve at the Getty Center in Los Angeles will feature Eggleston’s two-volume photography book made as the country readied for the 1976 presidential race.
Eggleston received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1975 and has been the recipient of numerous notable awards, including the University of Memphis Distinguished Achievement Award (1996); Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography (1998); International Center of Photography Infinity Award for Lifetime Achievement (2004); and the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, République Française (Order of Arts and Letters of the French Republic) (2016), among others. The Aperture Foundation honored Eggleston in October 2016. Work by the artist is held in major international museum collections.
Founded in 1992, the Eggleston Artistic Trust is dedicated to the representation and preservation of the work of William Eggleston and is directed by his sons Winston Eggleston and William Eggleston III. In 2019 the Eggleston Art Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the study and preservation of Eggleston's work, was founded in the artist’s hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. The Foundation houses the Eggleston Archive and serves as a resource for research about the artist, his art, and his subjects.