Grass Splash, Joyce Quadrangle, March 2009
I watched William Eggleston in the Real World last night. I admit I’d not heard of the documentary until searching through NetFlix for a biopic on Alfred Stieglitz, but it was a nice surprise. It starts out with Eggleston wandering around a small town in Kentucky on a photo safari of sorts at the commission of Gus Van Zant. The opening scenes and indeed the film entire are ardently low-fi; almost hesitant, handheld shots crapulent with peripheral noise and harsh light and competing on equal footing with Eggleston, yet there is a tone-perfect symmetry in Eggleston’s convalescent shuffle, subaudible drawl and the initial reluctance to haul the camera to his eye, as if first attempting to exhaust the scene’s accountability before taking the picture.
At first I thought these opening scenes were just a little stage fright. But then as later scenes unfold Eggleston remains unapologetically himself, though detours of drinking and synthesizer recitals, steadfastly uninterested in explaining away the fun of it despite the predictable toadstools of artspeak the interviewer/filmmaker tries to prompt him upon. Eggleston at last squints, literally, though such epic premise. “Art, or what we call that, you can love it and appreciate it, but you can’t really talk about it. Doesn’t make any sense.”
I latched immediately onto this title, after originally the doc on Stieglitz, as an insight into the methods and therefor the very minds of some giant role models… I’m not sure why photographers are so fascinated by the way other photographers work. What is there, exactly, to explain about the act of taking a photograph? The abstractions in the subject tend to fill quickly with surrogations about gear, lenses, film, etc. All so much general noise, like wind on a unsheilded mic, and just as temporal. What I like most about Eggleston’s work is it doesn’t inspire such questions in me. I’m left with only the act, the photograph, the laconia of movements and gestures that might seem to suspect the world’s design, but never its space. There’s a sense of searching for something that’s not fully known to be missing, yet the picture always seems ultimately taken as a way to catalogue this spot as having been thoroughly noted nontheless. Each shot a mild exhaustion, then onto the next.