Americans in Paris: William Eggleston’s Graceland at Paris Photo

Our Paris Photo exhibition “Spectacular Vernacular” features mid-century photography that finds inspiration in everyday life.

Dec 17, 2012 | Related Links Index Hidden Parent

Paris is known for many things—fashion, food, romance, art—but every November, one interest eclipses all others: photography. 
Paris Photo, the most prestigious art fair for photography, draws collectors, artists and gallery owners from around the globe. Exhibits encompass the earliest black and white turn-of-the-century prints to contemporary digital color images. As one of the official sponsors of Paris Photo, J.P. Morgan was invited to curate an exhibition, which was drawn from the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection.

Graceland comes to Paris
“The idea of our Spectacular Vernacular exhibit,” explains Lisa K. Erf, Director and Chief Curator of the firm’s Art Collection, “is to look at classic and contemporary photography that explores the complexity and beauty of the everyday.” Ms. Erf selected William Eggleston’s Graceland series, an 11-part portfolio of views of Elvis Presley’s mansion in Memphis, as the centerpiece. “Eggleston takes us on a voyeuristic tour of the house and grounds right before it became open as a tourist attraction,” comments Ms. Erf.  

To complement the series, Ms. Erf examined the works of photographers who were Eggleston’s mentors and inspiration. This led her to select works by seven other legendary photographers: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans and Robert Frank—who most influenced Eggleston—and Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand, Eve Arnold and Lynne Cohen, four of his contemporaries. “All of these artists looked at the world and at everyday ordinary scenes and, through their eyes, made them extraordinary. “

A different view of life
The 32 photographs, drawn exclusively from the corporate Art Collection, depict interiors, landscapes, people individually and in groups. Ranging from the 1930s until the mid-1980s, the exhibition reflects the experimentation that artists began in the 1930s, shifting away from staging and lighting scenes to spontaneously shot images using existing light levels—all of which were enabled by the introduction of the handheld camera.

“These photographers are experimenting. They are engaging with life and really redefining, for instance, how we think about, in the case of Walker Evans, the American South and how the South is perceived—and how through that, America may be perceived. In the case of William Eggleston, we are given a surreptitious look into this almost exotic suburban environment.”

What’s in a name?
For the title of the exhibit, Ms. Erf wanted something that “catches attention, that brings some excitement, that makes people curious about what they will see. So ‘Spectacular’ has a kind of over-the-top, almost circus-like feel to it. And it is paired with ‘Vernacular,’ which, of course, means the everyday. So it’s those photographers who can find, through ordinary life, things that they can share with us as unique and unexpected experiences.”

Two storied institutions, one vision
Created in 1959 by David Rockefeller, our corporate collection features more than 30,000 artworks located in 450 offices worldwide. In a vision shared with Paris Photo, the Collection illuminates the power of photography through the decades—bringing people and ideas together across cultures.

We invite you to contact us and a J.P. Morgan representative will be in touch with you.

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