The Brooks has long celebrated the accomplishments of William Eggleston (b. 1939) and Ernest C. Withers (1922-2007). Eggleston is represented in the collection by 279 photographs, the first of which were acquired in 1976 and exhibited in 1977. Withers is represented by 178 photographs the first of which were acquired in 1986 and exhibited in 1987. As part of the museum’s upcoming centennial celebration, many programming changes are underway including a shift from exhibiting a single photograph by each artist in the rotunda to dedicating the Chandler Gallery to the presentation of their artistic vision. Because works on paper are fragile and are subject to deterioration if exposed to light for great lengths of time, the gallery will be rotated frequently, allowing visitors an excellent opportunity to become more familiar with each photographer’s output.
Although their practices are dramatically different—Eggleston is a fine art photographer renowned for his work in color and Withers was a photojournalist who worked primarily in black and white—they represent two important strains within photography. Eggleston’s image a of wisteria-covered pickup truck is highly evocative of the South while his shot of the inside of a freezer begs the question of what is appropriate subject matter for photography. Withers captured events that powerfully defined the Civil Rights Movement such as Overton Park Zoo (1950s), in which he tellingly focused his lens on the Memphis Park Commission sign announcing “NO WHITE PEOPLE ALLOWED IN THE ZOO TODAY.” Withers is also known for his coverage of the Memphis music scene as for example his portrait of Al Green from the 1970s. Eggleston and Withers are two protean artists who are part of the history of Memphis, the Brooks, and the history of art, making this exhibition, which brings them and museum visitors into an extended conversation, extremely appropriate.
Ernest C. Withers
American, 1922 - 2007
Overton Park Zoo, Memphis, 1950s
Gelatin silver print, printed from original negative in 1999
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art purchase with funds provided by Ernest and Dorothy Withers, Panopticon Gallery, Inc., Waltham, MA, Landon and Carol Butler, The Deupree Family Foundation, and The Turley Foundation 2005.3.14
© Estate of the artist