William Eggleston has been described as the "beginning of modern colour photography". He helped pioneer a style that treated images of the mundane with a Technicolor brilliance. Nowadays accepted, lauded and frequently imitated, his groundbreaking 1976 show at New York's Museum of Modern Art was described as "the most hated show of the year". Michael Almereyda's documentary is an enlightening and intimate portrait of the artist, albeit with a subject who resists his biographer's attempts to intellectualise his work.
The film begins with Eggleston snapping the ephemera of a dilapidated little town in the American heartland. He shuffles around convenience stores, taco stands and sidewalks, pausing to photograph unremarkable objects with what looks like casual imprecision. It's a fitting beginning that illustrates his unique point of view. The trip, to Mayfield, Kentucky, is also a telling example of Eggleston's place in American culture. He's there at the behest of filmmaker Gus Van Sant, whose visual style - like that of contemporaries David Lynch, Sofia Coppola and others - is heavily influenced by Eggleston's work.
Eggleston is a laconic, self-contained figure. As a subject, he's reluctant to navel gaze, and his words - subtitled because of his low, mumbling speech - rarely provide an insight into his talent. But Almereyda has obviously gained his subject's trust and In the Real World has an authentic intimacy that steadily draws you in. Of course, it's Eggleston's own images that really stand out, and there are several that will stay in the mind long after Almereyda's commentary has faded. As Eggleston says of art, "You can love it and appreciate it, but you can't really talk about it."