10 Movies About Photography Every Photographer Should Watch
The lens capturing the lens. Through the lens of the film camera, we see a world that has been captured, frozen and immortalised by the lens of the photographic camera. The artistic medium of photography has been captured by its younger, moving and arguably more dynamic sibling— film, throughout the ages.
Films that revolve around the world of photography are imperative to the artistic craft and success of both mediums. Films such as ‘Finding Vivian Maier’ unlock some of the most exquisite hidden treasures of photography and delight film watchers with the wonder, artistry and stunning beauty of photography; on the other hand, photographic images such as publicity stills remained crucial to the success and promotion of films and their stars through much of the 20th century.
A ‘ying and yang’ of two equally important and dominant art forms, the following list will explore the world of photography as captured on film.
10. Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye (2003)
Heinz Butler’s 2003 documentary offers an insightful look into the life of perhaps the greatest photo-journalist of all time. Deemed the “father of modern photojournalism”, the documentary explores the life of an elusive man who’s incredibly vast body of work can only be matched by few. Ironically for a camera-shy man who avoided being photographed, Cartier-Bresson produced some of the most defining images in history.
Butler’s film depicts the fascinating life of a brilliant artist who captured some of the most timeless events, greatest historical figures and most breathtakingly powerful scenes of the twentieth century.
9. Bill Cunningham New York (2010)
Richard Press’ 2012 documentary film explores the life of one of the greatest street-fashion photographers of all time— Bill Cunningham. Gliding down the streets of New York on his Schwinn, Bill captures the pulsating heart of New York street culture— its eccentric, bold and one-of-a-kind fashion scene and has done so for decades.
Capturing the essence of the decade, time and place he is photographing, Bill humbly chronicles fashion trends from the gritty back streets of the city to swanky high-society balls & catwalks with no pretensions albeit immense flair and style.
The film takes a look into not only the immensely diverse body of work but also of the workings of an eccentric man whose living, breathing infatuation with photography and fashion has documented a history of self-expression that will live on.
8. Proof (1991)
Moorhouse’s 1991 comedy-drama Proof tells the story of a misanthropic man shrouded in both literal and figurative darkness. Australian actor Hugo Weaving brilliantly plays a blind photographer named Martin whose childhood has left him bitterly distrustful of the world; traumatised by the notion that his mother once deceived him— allegedly lying about the scenes outside of his window, Martin’s childhood paves the course for the rest of his adult life.
Martin begins to obsessively photograph the passing world and has people describe the images he has taken to validate the veritable truths of the world; this compulsion— stemming from his childhood trauma.
What begins as a method of proving the reality of the world around him initiates a profound friendship of which ultimately ignites a story of unrequited love, jealousy and emotional solace. A beautifully crafted tale of trust, love and reality that is as thought-provoking as it is heart-wrenching; a hidden Australian gem.
7. Funny Face (1957)
Stanley Donen’s 1957 classic is a sugary, romantic musical delight set amid Paris’ twinkling lights, nostalgic streets, iconic sights and glamorous catwalks. Icon of dance Fred Astaire plays Dick Avery— a world famous fashion photographer who dreams only of photographing models who can “think as well as they look”.
Conveniently stumbling into Jo Stockton— a timid bookstore assistant played by the iridescent Audrey Hepburn, Avery is entranced by her scepticism, intelligence, beauty and most of all— her spirit. Jetting of from the concrete jungle of Manhattan to the whimsical pearl of Europe, together Avery and Jo are entwined in a story of fashion, ambition. photography and romance amid the city of lights.
6. Finding Vivian Maier (2013)
Maloof and Siskel’s 2013 documentary film explores the life of Vivian Maier— an eccentric and mysterious nanny whose recently discovered body of work has posthumously secured her a place as one of the greatest photographers of all time.
With the recent unearthing of over 100,000 of Maier’s photographs; having been hidden gathering dust for decades in massive trunks, storage lockers and scattered throughout her previous residences, Vivian’s hauntingly beautiful street photography of 20th century American street scenes reveal an immense body of artistic accomplishment and talent from a woman whose life was as strange and incredible as her photographs.
5. The Killing Fields (1984)
Set amid the chaotic, devastating tyranny of Pol Pot’s “Democratic Kampuchea”, Joffe’s 1984 British drama tells the story of Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston)— a photographic reporter ensnared in the carnage and bloodshed of Pot’s genocidal ‘Year Zero’ campaign.
Depicting the frenzied, apocalyptic scenes of a country turned on its head, Joffe captures the complete and utter destruction of a society. Joffe underscores the senseless barbarity of the campaign yet assuages the brutality with a sense of strength and profundity in the emotionally bound friendship between Sydney and his Cambodian guide Dith Pran— impeccably portrayed by real-life survivor of the Pot’s regime, Dr. Haing S. Ngor.
Whilst Waterston brilliantly plays Schanberg, it is Ngor’s unflinchingly raw, personal and truthful portrayal that elevates the film to levels that cannot be matched; having lived through the incomprehensible pain and loss of the regime, Ngor’s performance is painful, profound and deeply touching.
It is a film that seeks not to explain ‘why’ but to elaborate on the ‘who’; Ngor’s performance personalises an incomprehensible story that utters the voices of over 2 million senselessly murdered; the film, thus helping us to empathise in a more immediate, direct way. Joffe’s film depicts the difficult truths of the human condition; it shows humanity surviving in the face of inhumanity and humanises a story otherwise unfathomable to most.
The film is an absorbing albeit difficult watch capturing not only the madness & chaos of a country blighted by war but eliciting a profound sense of tragedy in senseless loss after senseless loss.
4. City of God (2002)
Regarded as a masterpiece of contemporary Brazilian cinema, Meirelles and Lund’s 2002 crime-drama is an unflinchingly raw, visceral exploration into a world of violence, drugs and photography. Loosely inspired by true events and based upon Paulo Lins 1997 novel, the film explores the slums of Rio de Janerio— shrouded in poverty, drugs, death and gang warfare.
The film depicts the schism between the disparate lives of two characters ‘Rocket’ and ‘Lil’ Ze’. Rocket— whose love of photography proves his only escape from the dilapidated, festering slums of Cidade de Deus and the seemingly predestined life of crime that has been laid before him, diverges significantly from the path taken by his poverty stricken counterpart ‘Lil’ Ze’.
Falling into the almost unbreakable cycle of poverty, drugs, and death that ensnares those born into the slums, Lil Ze spirals further into a world of violence, ascending to the position of a powerful gang leader within Rio.
The breathtakingly flawless cinematography, harrowing performances and gritty realism of the film makes it a top contender for one of the greatest contemporary movies not only regarding photography, but of all time.
3. War Photographer (2001)
Christian Frei’s riveting documentary ‘War Photographer’ paints a portrait of perhaps one of the greatest war photographers of all time— James Nachtwey. A profoundly moving portrait of a man whose lens sees for violence & death to give birth to life in art, the film is breathtaking in its intensity.
Frei’s film induces shock as he depicts the complete and utter devastation of life in war; scenes of grotesque killings and brutal violence are silenced by Nachtwey’s lens. Frei depicts Nachtwey as utilising the medium of photography to bring a sense of stillness to scenes of devastating chaos; a scene of execution is summarily transformed by Nachtwey into an exquisitely crafted piece of art.
Frei’s film addresses some of the more human and complex aspects of war photography whilst exploring the power of the photograph— the ability of the camera to instil a sense of poignant quietness to a scene of deafening chaos…to capture the traumatic and frantic reality of life in war— freezing the devastating truths of war and entwining them with the realm of art.
2. Blow-up (1966)
Italian master of cinema Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 counter-culture feature ‘Blow-up’ is a controversial exploration into a day in the life of a quintessentially “mod” London photographer Thomas. Thomas’ raucous world of fashion, photography and “love without meaning” is scrambled when a mysterious woman, a haunting photograph and a frightening murder are threaded into his life.
Antonioni’s first English film, Blow-up received widespread critical acclaim within the film world and has been proclaimed by Andrew Sarris to be a “mod masterpiece”. A must see for all film lovers.
1. Rear Window (1954)
Hitchcock’s 1954 masterpiece remains one of the most compelling mystery-thrillers of all time and thus one of the most thrilling pieces centred around the artistic medium of photography. Based upon Cornell Woolrich’s 1942 short story ‘It Had to be Murder’, the film tells the story of an inquisitive photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies (Jimmy Stewart).
Bound to his wheelchair, Jeff’s world shrinks to the confines of his apartment as he recovers from an accident; however to pass the time, Jeff voyhueristically peers out through his apartment window and begins to quietly observe the world around him. An invasive form of live entertainment is beheld by the bored photographer as the lives of his colourful neighbours unravel before him.
Spying on eccentric characters such as a dancer “Miss Torso”, a pianist, and a lonely woman nicknamed “Miss Lonelyhearts”, none capture the attention of Jefferies more-so than a sinister looking, middle-aged man named Thorwald. Thorwald’s ominous nature, thunderous arguments and suspicious actions in the dead of night see for one word to saturate Jeff’s mind— murder.
Proclaimed as one of Hitchcock’s greatest works, the film is considered one of the greatest classics of all time and has inspired countless parodies, sketches and retellings from Caruso’s ‘Disturbia’ (2007) to The Simpsons.
Author Bio: Rita is a student from Sydney studying a dual degree in Commerce and Arts. An avid film, art and music enthusiast (and lover of all things obscure, nostalgic and strange), she is often found immersing herself within the world of film. Aside from pretentiously gorging herself on the works of Tarkovsky, she enjoys reading, travelling and hoarding postcards.