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Matinee: 'William Eggleston Photographer' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

1 March 2014

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the twenty-second in our series of Saturday matinees today: William Eggleston Photographer.

This 26-minute 2008 documentary by Reiner Holzemer starts with Eggleston at work, climbing out of a car to take a few seemingly random shots. What's he shooting? "Life today," he explains simply.

The film, which is repeated in German (hence the 53-minute length), includes conversations with Eggleston and an interview with his wife Rosa, among others.

He has a personal discipline, he says, of taking only one picture of one thing. "Not two." And never giving them a title.

He began taking photographs in 1957 shooting black and white with a Canon rangefinder. He bought a Leica in 1958. But "I didn't know anything about photography," he explains. So he taught himself, just as he had taught himself to play the piano.

A friend was interested in photojournalism but Eggleston didn't find anything appealing about it. When he saw a book of Henri Cartier-Bresson's photographs, though, he was on his way. He was likewise enchanted by Walker Evans' American Photographs. He was captivated by the compositions. These guys knew about art. They had applied the concepts of fine art it to photography.

The radical crops and converging shapes and lines of modern art interested Eggleston. But he found his surroundings ugly and uninspiring. Until he applied his appreciation of art to photography.

In the mid-1960s he shot his first color film. His apprenticeship was over. The world is in color and so his photographs would be in color, too.

A storefront, parked cars, the inside of an oven, his "democratic" camera treats everything as equally worthy of being the subject of a photo. As long as the color is alive.

He shoots film in this documentary, color negative apparently. His prints were dye transfers when dye transfer materials were still available.

The 112-page William Eggleston's Guide was produced for Eggleston's exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, its first one-man show of color photographs. It was also the museum's first publication of color photography.

Called the godfather of color photography, Eggleston's first show was not universally appreciated. But he pitied the critics who didn't appreciate his art and, he says, they later apologized. They just didn't get it and it was, unfortunately, their job to get it.

What they didn't get was color photography as art. Modern art.

He talks, at the very end of the film, about having photographic dreams in which he sees one beautiful photo after another. And they are "always in color."

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