Ten Movies Every Photographer Should See

Ten Movies Every Photographer Should See

There are three sources of knowledge that are available to us in this world; perception, inference, and what is referred to in India as Vedas – the sacred texts.

Perception, or first-hand experiences, are of course the best teachers. You put your hand in the fire and it is most likely that you will never do this again. Inference would be our conclusions based on evidence and reasoning, most often evidence given to us as facts by our teachers, whom we trust have had their own experiences to learn from. We must be very conscious who these teachers are because many times even our teachers only read their so called ‘knowledge’ and did not acquire it on their own. but this is another issue.

When we talk of Vedas, we do not necessarily mean ‘sacred’. It would be better understood as the text, or knowledge, that is passed on to us from the masters whom we KNOW have had personal experiences. The reason we need to learn form Vedas is because those master teachers are not personally available to us. The Vedas would be the knowledge we can access even if the masters are not here with us.

This short list of photography movies belong to what I consider as the Vedas of some of the greatest masters of our times. There have been many great movies over the years, of course, but these have visually inspired me and contributed to my career. Most of these films are easily available on DVD, while others might be hard to find but are surely worth the effort.

So here is the list in alphabetical order:

ten-movies-every-photographer-should-see

Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens (2007)

This documentary takes an in-depth look at the influential career of iconic photographer Annie Leibovitz, from her earliest artistic efforts to her storied tenure at Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair magazines and beyond. Intimately filmed by Annie’s sister Barbara Leibovitz, the program features interviews with the artist as she works at home, along with telling insights from many of the celebrities she has photographed, such as Mick Jagger.

Ansel Adams: American Experience (2002)

Few American photographers have reached a wider audience than Ansel Adams, and none has had more impact on how Americans grasp the majesty of their continent. In this elegant, moving and lyrical portrait of the most eloquent and quintessentially American of photographers, producer Ric Burns seeks to explore the meaning and legacy of Adams’ life and work. At the heart of the film are the great themes that absorbed Adams throughout his career: the beauty and fragility of “the American earth,” the inseparable bond of man and nature, and the moral obligation the present owes to the future.

Blow-Up (1966)

Blow-Up (1966) is writer/director Michelangelo Antonioni’s view of the world of mod fashion, and an engaging, provocative murder mystery that examines the existential nature of reality through photography. Antonioni’s first film in English, it quickly became one of the most important films of its decade, and a milestone in liberalized attitudes toward film nudity and expressions of sexuality. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards (with no wins): Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay (Edward Bond, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Tonino Guerra).

Fire in the East: A Portrait of Robert Frank (1986)

A documentary about the life and work of the influential photographer and filmmaker of the Beat Generation, Robert Frank. The film combines a retrospective of Frank’s output over four decades, interviews with people he has worked with in the past, and his current view of his life and art.

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Helmut Newton – Frames from the edge (1986)

Follow influential photographer Helmut Newton — whose strikingly erotic portraits of nude women shocked the fashion world — as he jet-sets from Los Angeles to Monte Carlo to Berlin, where he escaped the Nazis in 1936. Along the way, the charismatic artist holds court on life, love, art, family and more. Portrait subjects Catherine Deneuve, Charlotte Rampling, Sigourney Weaver and Karl Lagerfield reflect on their experiences with Newton.

Paul Strand – Under the dark cloth (1989)

Two types of art — photography and film — converge in this documentary that provides a fascinating picture of the life of famed photographer Paul Strand. Directed by John Walker, Strand: Under the Dark Cloth takes an in-depth look at Strand’s his work, his relationships with his family and contemporaries and his isolated way of creating his art.

Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light (1966)

The son of a Russian-Jewish immigrant, Richard Avedon became one of the most famous photographers in the worlds of fashion and celebrity. Beginning with his work in the postwar Paris fashion scene, the documentary follows Avedon’s 50-year career photographing both the famous and the not so famous. Avedon himself provides commentary on his signature black-and-white style in this documentary created for the “American Masters” series.

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Sebastiao Salgado – The Spectre of Hope (2000)

The Spectre of Hope is a moving documentary about the present moment on our planet, based on the internationally renowned photographs of Sebastiao Salgado. Salgado spent 6 years traveling to over 40 countries, taking pictures of globalization and its consequences – most notably, the mass migrations of populations around the world. In the film, Salgado presents his remarkable photographs in conversation with John Berger. Essential viewing for anyone concerned about the state of humanity at the start of the 21st century.

War Photographer (2001)

WAR PHOTOGRAPHER is the compelling portrait of the man considered the bravest and most important war photographer of our time, James Nachtwey. In this engrossing, Academy Award-nominated documentary, director Christian Frei follows photojournalist James Nachtwey into the world’s combat zones as he fights to capture the struggles of those who face harrowing violence in places such as Kosovo, Indonesia and the West Bank. Nachtwey skirts through murky politics to tell the stories of the suffering in hopes that he can bring attention to their plight, one picture at a time.

W. Eugene Smith: Photography Made Difficult (1989)

The life of W. Eugene Smith is re-created in this docudrama, with Peter Reigert playing the esteemed photojournalist whose World War II images defined the photo essay genre. Interviews, footage and reenactments chronicle Smith’s remarkable career. A daring news photographer who sustained serious wounds while on assignment in Okinawa, Smith captured arresting images that appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Life and many other publications.

If you wish to add a recommendation please feel free to leave a comment.

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Comments ( 29 )

  • Noam

    Great list.
    I saw some, there are many more to watch.

    Thank you Sephi.

  • Noam

    Great list.
    I saw some, there are many more to watch.

    Thank you Sephi.

  • Jack Kurtz

    One photocentric movie I really like is “Under Fire” about the Nicaraguan revolution starring Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman and Joanna Cassidy. Nolte plays the photographer and is great in the role. He handles the cameras like a working photojournalist. The technical advisor on the film was Matthew Naythons, who did some great photojournalism in Nicaragua. That had to help the movie’s feel of realism.

    jack

  • Jack Kurtz

    One photocentric movie I really like is “Under Fire” about the Nicaraguan revolution starring Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman and Joanna Cassidy. Nolte plays the photographer and is great in the role. He handles the cameras like a working photojournalist. The technical advisor on the film was Matthew Naythons, who did some great photojournalism in Nicaragua. That had to help the movie’s feel of realism.

    jack

  • JJ

    You might add Susan Meiselas – Pictures at a Revolution.

  • JJ

    You might add Susan Meiselas – Pictures at a Revolution.

  • ...m...

    Good list. I might include some titles that are not ABOUT shooting, but that are shot extremely well. One’s with an eye toward extending the frame as part of the “poetry” of film.

    Days of Heaven (Terrence Malik)
    Barry Lyndon, (Kubrick, who had Carl Zeiss develop some custom lenses so as to be able to shoot some entire scenes by candlelight, the lumens of the period)

  • ...m...

    Good list. I might include some titles that are not ABOUT shooting, but that are shot extremely well. One’s with an eye toward extending the frame as part of the “poetry” of film.

    Days of Heaven (Terrence Malik)
    Barry Lyndon, (Kubrick, who had Carl Zeiss develop some custom lenses so as to be able to shoot some entire scenes by candlelight, the lumens of the period)

  • Simon Jacobs

    Jack…yep ‘Under Fire’. Couldn’t agree more. Superb- and prob the only realistic photojournalism portrayal on celluloid.

  • Simon Jacobs

    Jack…yep ‘Under Fire’. Couldn’t agree more. Superb- and prob the only realistic photojournalism portrayal on celluloid.

  • Bob Karp

    Great movies! I threw some of my favorites (Hollywood photo flix) onto my blog The Photojournalist: http://blogs.dailyrecord.com/photojournalist/2009/01/01/15-plus-photo-movies-for-the-new-year/
    Enjoy! Bob K

  • Bob Karp

    Great movies! I threw some of my favorites (Hollywood photo flix) onto my blog The Photojournalist: http://blogs.dailyrecord.com/photojournalist/2009/01/01/15-plus-photo-movies-for-the-new-year/
    Enjoy! Bob K

  • Jack Ratana

    Sephi, thanks buddy, great list

  • Jack Ratana

    Sephi, thanks buddy, great list

  • Matthew Lyons

    Nice list. I’ve seen a couple, but you’ve given me fodder for my Netflix queue.

    Best,
    Matthew

  • Matthew Lyons

    Nice list. I’ve seen a couple, but you’ve given me fodder for my Netflix queue.

    Best,
    Matthew

  • jeremy north

    I was going to suggest ‘Barry Lyndon’ but I see it has already been mentioned. It is fabulously shot. That f0.7 Zeiss lens was apparently borrowed from NASA according to an interview I heard recently on BBC radio 4’s Film Programme.

    The War Photographer is a very moving film. I need to look out for the others.

    May I suggest a fantastic documentary series put out by the BBC at the end of 2007 called ‘The Genius of Photography’ It is a series of six, one hour programmes looking at the development of photography from it’s beginnings in 1839 up til the present day. It is utterly absorbing. As I missed one or two of them, I looked for it on DVD but it was not available. Eventually I was able to get it as a download via P2P. I have the files should anyone be interested I’d be glad to let you have them.

    Subsequent to that, I’ve heard that the DVD will be released in July for those who don’t mind waiting. I’ll definitely be buying it.

    • Sephi

      Thank you Jeremy, for the information about the BBC programme. I will definitely look it up. They do make great TV in the UK. I’m now watching another great BBC series called ‘The Trap – What happened to our dreams of freedom’. Fantastic ideas. Barry Lyndon is indeed shot in a great way. cheers

  • jeremy north

    I was going to suggest ‘Barry Lyndon’ but I see it has already been mentioned. It is fabulously shot. That f0.7 Zeiss lens was apparently borrowed from NASA according to an interview I heard recently on BBC radio 4’s Film Programme.

    The War Photographer is a very moving film. I need to look out for the others.

    May I suggest a fantastic documentary series put out by the BBC at the end of 2007 called ‘The Genius of Photography’ It is a series of six, one hour programmes looking at the development of photography from it’s beginnings in 1839 up til the present day. It is utterly absorbing. As I missed one or two of them, I looked for it on DVD but it was not available. Eventually I was able to get it as a download via P2P. I have the files should anyone be interested I’d be glad to let you have them.

    Subsequent to that, I’ve heard that the DVD will be released in July for those who don’t mind waiting. I’ll definitely be buying it.

    • Sephi

      Thank you Jeremy, for the information about the BBC programme. I will definitely look it up. They do make great TV in the UK. I’m now watching another great BBC series called ‘The Trap – What happened to our dreams of freedom’. Fantastic ideas. Barry Lyndon is indeed shot in a great way. cheers

  • dan

    City of God would be a good one too.

  • dan

    City of God would be a good one too.

  • UK

    Great list.. Salgado is my alltime fav…

  • UK

    Great list.. Salgado is my alltime fav…

  • Ringo Speed

    Helmut By June is also pretty interesting and a bit more leftfield than Frames, portrays Helmut as a grumpy old man, and also, for me at least, interesting is his relationship with June , and the fact the only time you see June is as a reflection in a mirror.

    … also really like ‘Smash His Camera’ and ‘Bill Cunningham New York’ – both for a glimpse into a sheer lifetime of dedication to a niche in the photography industry.

  • Ringo Speed

    Helmut By June is also pretty interesting and a bit more leftfield than Frames, portrays Helmut as a grumpy old man, and also, for me at least, interesting is his relationship with June , and the fact the only time you see June is as a reflection in a mirror.

    … also really like ‘Smash His Camera’ and ‘Bill Cunningham New York’ – both for a glimpse into a sheer lifetime of dedication to a niche in the photography industry.

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