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Photography on film

Posted at 11:48 AM on November 28, 2005 by Euan Kerr

"William Eggleston in the Real World" opens with a prolonged sequence of Eggleston, the famed photographer, pottering around Mayfield, Kentucky, shooting picture, after picture, after picture. It's a sequence which will separate the sheep from the goats, or rather the photogs from the non-photogs. I'm willing to bet many people will be reaching for their coats after about 20 minutes. I have to say I watched in fascination.

Hunched in his winter coat against the wind, he seems to be wandering aimlessly through a nondescript residential area, picking subjects in a second, making his picture, then moving on.

In his voiceover director Michael Almereyda (who has been working on the Deadwood TV series, and before that made a modern adaptation of "Hamlet" with Ethan Hawke) admits he was tempted just to let the tape run without any explanation. He was advised against it, and so provides just enough detail to let the viewer know what is going on, and we are seeing a master at work.

William Eggleston has been creating stunning pictures of ordinary things for decades. By his own reckoning he's shot at least a quarter of a million pictures, rarely taking more than one of any subject. His work had been described as seminal and ground-breaking by some critics, and boring by others.

Almereyda just follows him as he works, plays piano, gets drunk with a girlfriend, then later as he gets drunk with his wife. While Almereyda explains some of why he thinks Eggleston is important, and shows many of his pictures, much of the film just follows Eggleston as he rambles through his life, apparently with little planning, just a conviction that he is producing some of the best work of his life.

This is a movie lacking any clear message, but if you give it some time, it'll give you a lot to think about.

November 2005
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