Alex Prager's use of overly saturated color in her photographs might not seem like anything special nowadays, but barely 40 years ago, serious photographers only used black-and-white film. Color photographers were regarded as unworthy of attention in the art world. Things changed when the Father of Color Photography, William Eggleston pushed the boundaries of color film and print.
William Eggleston showed off his artistic side early in life. He learned to play the piano and drew as a hobby. His fondness for the visual arts would stay with him throughout his teenage years, which translated well when he was given a camera in his University years. Eggleston began taking photographs only as a pastime but as with many great artists, he only focused on the medium as a career while going through another photographer's images.
That inspiring photographer was Henri Cartier-Bresson, and as Eggleston looked through the black-and-white pictures of the pioneering street photographer, he decided to follow suit and become a professional photographer himself. While color photography was already available at that time, Eggleston first photographs were also in black-and-white as this was considered the norm; color photography was only used for amateur family pictures or commercial print ads while "serious" photographers only took pictures in black-and-white.
Eggleston soon grew tired with the black-and-white standard and decided to go with color photography. He began to garner attention not only because of his color pictures, but also because of their content. Eggleston chose to photograph the ordinary and mundane, capturing people, objects and places that wouldn't have been considered worthy of attention of other photographers. Critics described his photographs as banal and vulgar, and indeed, many of his photographs were quite provocative.
Still, Eggleston enjoyed a relatively successful career as a photographer despite of (or because of) these criticisms. His preference for color photography was slowly gaining acceptance, but it was only around 1973 that his color images truly took off. It was then that Eggleston turned his attention to the dye-transfer process. This printing process was mostly only being used for print ads on glossy magazine pages. When applied to his art photographs, another level of color was achieved.
Eggleston was very impressed with the dye-process results. Describing the print of his "Red Ceiling", (the cover photo above and one of his most famous images), he says, "'The Red Ceiling' is so powerful that, in fact, I've never seen it reproduced on the page to my satisfaction. When you look at a dye-transfer print it's like it's red blood that is wet on the wall."
In the art collector's world, Eggleston's name still remains relevant. In a Christie's auction held last year, 36 original prints by the photographer fetched over $5.9 million. While it may seem like an outrageous price, outside of the art world Eggleston is still revered for breaking the rules of serious photography and going with his instinct to prove that color is a vital of photography, paving the way for photographers such as Steve McCurry, Mika Ninagawa, Alex Prager, Hiroshi Sugimoto and many others.
The William Eggleston Artistic Trust has more information about the Father of Color Photography. For hardbound editions of his works, there are the William Eggleston's Guide, Chromes and Los Alamos Revisited among many others. For a different take on color, have a look at Steve McCurry, Mika Ninagawa, Alex Prager and Hiroshi Sugimoto.