It's not easy making documentaries about photographers, especially those with an intense vision and a reclusive personality. Their behaviour can come off as cool or distant, though their work be rich and exciting. I had some high hopes for Michael Almereyda's documentary about William Eggleston because it is a photographer I have just started to discover and that stimulates me a lot. I could deal with a run-of-the-mill stills+action+talking heads just to get more information, more interpretations, and more insight of his work. From his works, it would be easy to perceive Eggleston as someone with a modern art sensitivity, a sort of enfant terrible or an articulate Pop Art wonder like Stephen Shore, yet he is everything but that. Eggleston is a very private and quiet man, an intense observer, and at the same time someone with a reserve more associated with the older generations. He reminds me of T.S. Eliot's Waste Land: extremely modern in its execution, yet only understandable by someone who knows the past, someone ancient. William Burroughs also comes to mind, in his combination of stern demeanour and explosive art. All of that makes Almereyda's decision to do a close-up portrait of him a more cinematically difficult endeavour. Eggleston is "at war with the obvious" as he says, but on the surface his behaviour on screen does not come across more than seeming banal, and that was a pity. The documentary follows him during various photographic trips (he uses a Mamiya Press, a Contax G2, and an unindentified 35mm SLR, for the curious ones), and also at the Getty Museum, where he receives a lifetime achievement award. Not much is said, many photos are taken, and sometimes we get a glimpse of his own home, his friends, and some chitchat with the people he encounters while taking pictures. There are interesting juxtapositions between the footage of picture-taking and the picture itself to give a great subjective awareness of his work, but they are few. It is a mixed blessing to see this very simple onscreen action. On the one hand, it proves to the unbeliever that photography really happens between the eye and the subject. On the other hand, it is sometimes difficult to stay attentive precisely because what really happens is not what is shown on screen, but what is in the camera's viewfinder. There are few people commenting on his work, which was somewhat surprising, given the immense recognition it has. I do not know whether this was a conscious decision or simply a result of limited means. Perhaps it would have spoilt the value of the documentary by imposing too much authoritative talking; perhaps not. Most of the commentary is from the director's voiceover, with the usual caveats of non-professional voice technique. The most important piece of "document" in this documentary really is the visit of the family album with Eggleston and his wife. She simply browse through an old album that is falling to pieces, and casually describes the photos. Those were among his first, all taken in black and white, and they are simply astonishing. They are not masterpieces, but they are so focused in their vision, and so simple at the same time, that they are the proof that something important is at play in this man since the beginning. To avoid making Eggleston look like a pure cipher, I want to underline two important things about him that actually render him deceptively simple. One: during a coffee shop conversation with the director, the latter attempts to analyze and theorize Eggleston's work in relationship to reality, representation, and the rest of the academic apparatus. Despite the director's insistence in trying to pin down what his photography really is about, he simply brush it aside very honestly and very simply. "I don't think you can analyze it." There is no battle of words, no long winded argument and artistic intention analysis; somewhere, intuitively, Eggleston disagrees, but he doesn't really care to put into words. Putting words around the photos is the job of the critic; the photographer just makes them and that's enough for him to care about. Two: After some drinks and talk, Eggleston puts on a record by Roy Orbison, the song "The Real World." He does not react much to the powerfully emotional song, but at the end says: "It's beautiful, isn't it?"