“Art, or what they call that: You can love it, you can appreciate it. but, you can’t really talk about it. Doesn’t make sense.”
(In The Real World)
Top Photography Movies About Photographers
Photography movies: Very often we just remember the iconic images from the great masters of photography. “The Kiss” from Robert Doisneau, for example. Or Robert Capa’s photo of a falling soldier in the Spanish Civil War. Not to mention Henri Cartier-Bresson’s brilliant captures of the”decisive moment”. Yet we usually know very little about the lives of the artists who have created these photographs that have left their imprint on the minds of millions of people around the world interested in photography.
As it is certainly true that each photograph reveals a great deal about its author simply by looking at formal aspects like composition, framing or use of light, one gets a whole new understanding of the body of work of a specific photographer by learning something about his or her biography.
To watch photography movies about the great masters can open totally new horizons. When we take up a camera we are all conditioned by our own past and experiences when it comes to choosing the subject of a photograph or when to press the shutter button.
That being said I hope that the following list of the best photography movies will be a source of inspiration for you to gain new perspectives on the work of your favourite famous photographers. I at least find it truly rewarding to listen to iconic photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank or William Eggleston talk about their work in their own words.
Besides documentary type of photography movies I’ve also included real films about photography that deal with the essence of this fascinating medium, like “Blow Up” by Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, for example.
1. “Blow Up” – A Film by Michelangelo Antonioni
In this masterpiece Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni deals with the fundamental questions about the essence of photography.
The main storyline seems to be an ordinary crime tale: Photographer Thomas (David Hemmings) candidly takes pictures of a love couple in a park.
When looking at the enlarged prints later on in his studio, he discovers that he has taken pictures of a murder.
But underneath the surface, this brilliant photography movie asks fundamental questions such as: As to what point can we trust what we see on a photo? Or do we eventually just see what we want to see? Everybody interested in photography movies should make sure to watch this classic.
“Blow Up” (1966). Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, Warner Home Video, 111 minutes
2. “Fur” – An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus
Even though this film is not at all times true to the real facts about the life of legendary photographer Diane Arbus, “Fur” is still worth watching.
Starring Nicole Kidman as freak-photographer Arbus, this photography movie tells the story of how a shy and lonely housewife in New York embarks on a journey into mysterious worlds taking pictures of people that stand outside of society.
“Fur – An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus” (2006). Starring Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr., directed by Steven Shainberg, New Line Studio, 2 hours 3 minutes
Check out my photography podcast – conversations with inspiring photographers from around the globe sharing their secrets for creating amazing images. It’s mostly in German, but here are some episodes in English:
Valerie Jardin: “Street Photography – Creative Vision Behind The Lens”
Dmitry Stepanenko: “Heavy Color” Street Photography
Jason Koxvold: “Knives” – Left Behind In Rural America”
Dyanne Wilson: Chasing The Northern Lights In Yellowknife
Luc Kordas: Loneliness In New York
3. William Eggleston “In The Real World”
William Eggleston, often called “The Father Of Color Photography”, has a reputation of being a man of very few words. He just doesn’t like to talk about his images. Once he barked back at a journalist asking him something: “That’s about one of the stupidest questions I’ve ever heard.”
That’s what makes this photography movie all the more special. It gives a rare glimpse at the person behind some of the most iconic pictures in recent history of photography. William Eggleston and his ability to turn the banal into a piece of art has become the reference for generations of future photographers. Photography movies seldom have been better than this one.
“William Eggleston – In the Real World” (2006). Directed by Michael Almereyda, Palm Pictures, 87 minutes
4. “The Mexican Suitcase”
In 2007, three boxes showed up in Mexico containing previously unseen photographs of photojournalist and Magnum member Robert Capa.
In addition to Capa’s negatives, material from Gerda Taro and David Seymour, two other important photographers that had covered the Spanish Civil War, were also found.
The photography movie “The Mexican Suitcase” tells the story of the mysterious journey of the long-forgotten photo-material of these famous photographers and how it finally appeared again.
“The Mexican Suitcase” (2011). Starring Susan Meiselas, directed by Trisha Ziff, The Mexican Suitcase LLC (Studio), 90 minutes
5. James Nachtwey “War Photographer”
“War Photographer” is the intimate portrait of legendary photojournalist James Nachtwey.
Passionate about his job, he documents the horrors of global conflicts such as the Balkan war and several crisis in Africa.
This exceptional photography movie gets as close as possible to the mind of Nachtwey.
It also shows how the images are processed in the newsrooms of mayor media outlets.
“War Photographer” portrays a man in his heroic attempt to show the cruel reality and brutality of war.
“War Photographer” (2001). Directed by Christian Frei, First Run Features, 96 minutes
6. Helmut Newton “Frames From The Edge”
When it comes to portrait, fashion or nude photography Helmut Newton is definitely one of the most renown masters in these genres.
With his provocative images of naked women, Newton blurred the lines between art and pornography.
This photography film follows Helmut Newton to his favourite places: Monte Carlo, Paris, Berlin – and Los Angeles.
Few photography movies have brought its viewers that close to the artist.
Helmut Newton is seen while shooting as well as in rare private moment reflecting about his work.
“Frames from the Edge: Helmut Newton” (2009). Directed by Adrian Maben, Arthaus Musik, 100 minutes
7. Annie Leibovitz “Life Through A Lens”
Annie Leibovitz has portrayed them all: Mick Jagger, John Lennon or George Clooney.
But not only music and movie stars have posed for her, Leibovitz has also taken portraits of many politicians, like Nelson Mandela, for example.
Today she’s ranked among the most influential visual artists.
In “Annie Leibovitz – Life Through A Lens” the star photographer comes to live through the testimonies of the people she has worked with.
Among them are Mick Jagger, Bette Midler, Keira Knightley, Whoopi Goldberg and Kirsten Dunst. But there’s also extensive footage of shootings performed by Leibovitz herself. The movie was directed by Leibovitz’ sister Barbara.
“American Masters Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens” (2008). Directed by Barbara Leibovitz, Warner Home Video, 90 minutes
8. Henri Cartier-Bresson “The Impassioned Eye”
The name Henri Cartier-Bresson is forever linked to the term “the decisive moment”.
It’s that particular moment when all the subjects within a frame are united in perfect harmony and geometry.
That’s when a photographer has to press the shutter button. Henri Cartier-Bresson was a master of seizing that exact moment.
Because of that, there are many who consider the French photographer and founding member of the famous photo agency Magnum Photos to be the greatest photographer of the 20th century.
“Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye” is a wonderful movie about the man who has written history with his images.
“Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye” (2006). Directed by Heinz Bütler, Palm Pictures, 72 minutes
9. Alfred Stieglitz “The Eloquent Eye”
At the beginning of the 20th century, Alfred Stieglitz was among the most influential artists in the US.
Along with Edward Steichen and Alvin Langdon he marked a turning point in the history of photography.
Stieglitz promoted photography as something more than just the mere representation of a particular moment or situation.
In his eyes, photography was more than a documentary tool. He saw photography as a form of art, at the same step with painting, for example.
The photography movie “The Eloquent Eye” is a rich document about the life of Alfred Stieglitz who is considered by many “The Father of Modern Photography”.
The film includes an interview with Stieglitz’s wife and source of inspiration Georgia O’Keeffe. In addition to that, the movie shows rare images from the Stieglitz archives.
“American Masters – Alfred Stieglitz: The Eloquent Eye” (1999). Directed by Perry Miller Adato, Winstar, 88 minutes
10. “Guest of Cindy Sherman” (2008)
She’s a master of disguise. Throughout her career, photographer Cindy Sherman has taking on many roles.
She made her debut in the art world with “Filmstills” – 69 black and white images that show Sherman herself in different situations that resemble scenes from famous movies.
In the picture “Guest of Cindy Sherman” the shy artist talks about her chameleon like style of photographic role play and gives and intimate look at her artistic processes.
“Guest of Cindy Sherman” (2008). Directed by Tom Donahue and Paul Hasegawa-Overacker, Microcinema Studio, 88 minutes
Which are your favourite photography movies? Please share your recommendations.