Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Photographers on Film

Yesterday's post made me watch "Funny Face" again, an ugly duckling turns into a swan movie that is equally about the photographer who transforms her. Especially wonderful is the scene where Fred Astaire, channeling Avedon, sings the title song of the movie while enlarging a high-key, blow-up portrait of Audrey Hepburn (actually made by Avedon) that gets Hepburn the modeling job in Paris. "Funny Face" made me think about feature films and documentaries about photographers and cinematographers.

My favorites:

Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography. The greatest cinematographers in the world (Vittorio Storaro, Gordon Willis, Nestor Almendros, John Bailey, Vilmos Zsigmond, Conrad Hall) talk about their work and the movies that influenced them; the history of cinematography is revealed through breathtaking scenes from more than 120 films, from Battleship Potemkin to the Godfather.

Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography

Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens. The most celebrated photographer of our time talks about her work, vision, personal life, and celebrity subjects, who return the favor with admiring anecdotes about the experience of posing for her. The documentary was directed by Leibovitz' sister, Barbara, who uses home movies and interviews with other family members that give the movie a very intimate quality.

Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens

Blow-Up. Yeah, baby. David Hemmings plays a morose and drugged out fashion photographer in swinging 60s London in this stylish murder mystery by Italian master Michelangelo Antonioni. The character was based on English photographer David Bailey, who epitomized "birth of the cool," later parodied in the first Austin Powers movie. The movie also inspired Brian di Palma's Blow Out. The fashion shoots are a hoot.


War Photographer. Christian Frei's camera follows James Nachtwey on assignment and shows us why he is the greatest war photographer working today. A video camera attached to Nachtwey's still camera puts the viewer right into the heart of the war in Kosovo and other places as Nachtwey weaved himself in and out of them. An extraordinary look at how a photographer works and a cry for peace in our troubled times.
War Photographer

Under Fire. From War Photographer to war photographer as action hero. In his best performance ever, Nick Nolte plays an embattled photojournalist covering the war in Nicaragua in this finely crafted, but underappreciated, thriller. Great acting all around from Gene Hackman, Ed Harris and Joanna Cassidy, and written intelligently by Ron Shelton, screenwriter of Bull Durham. If you haven't seen this yet, rent it now.

Under Fire (Spanish dub)

The Genius of Photography. This six-part BBC documentary is not your average crash course on the history of photography; it is riveting, idiosyncratic and entertaining, explained with panache by some of the best in the field. Just take a look at the clip about Bresson below and you will be spellbound. If you missed its cable run, the DVD will be available next month (finally!) from

BBC - The Genius of Photography

Born into Brothels. The liberating power of the camera becomes reality in this film about eight children who live in Calcutta's red light district with their prostitute mothers. Filmmaker Zana Briski gave each child a camera and taught them how to use it. In the process, she showed them how to see the world differently. At the core of the film is hope and the transforming power of kindness.

Born into Brothels

Sven Nykvist: Light Keeps Me Company. A son's loving tribute to his father, Swedish cinematographer Sven Nykvist, who created cinema's most unforgettable images for Ingmar Bergman's greatest films (Virgin Spring, Persona, Cries and Whispers, Fanny & Alexander, From the Life of the Marionettes, Autumn Sonata, Scenes from a Marriage, among many others); a career that spanned nearly 60 years.

Sven Nykvist: Light Keeps Me Company

Masters of Photography: Diane Arbus. A 1967 documentary of Arbus, in her own voice, and the voices of friends and admirers: photographer Lisette Model, Marvin Israel, and John Szarkowski, MOMA director of photography. A fascinating look at her incipient but quickly evolving vision of photography at a critical time when success and recognition were nearly upon her.

Diane Arbus

Bruce Weber: Chop Suey. This film is a spicy melange: Robert Mitchum, vintage photos, dogs, his long-time collaboration with model Peter Johnson, chanteuse Fanny Faye, Diana Vreeland's apartment, wrestlers, Georgia O'Keefe, Jan-Michael Vincent; in short, anything Weber fancied. Got this as part of a 5-disc box set that includes his documentaries on Chet Baker ("Let's Get Lost"), boxing ("Broken Noses"), and dogs ("A Letter to True").

Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye. Bresson's humor, tenacity and sense of mischief are wonderfully on display in this series of interviews filmed late in the photographer's life. Cartier-Bresson's reflections on his photographs are a veritable survey of modern history. Film actress Isabelle Huppert, writer Arthur Miller, photographers Josef Koudelka and Elliott Erwitt are on hand to talk about the great man.


  1. Born Into Brothels Kids Sue Filmmakers! (Calcutta newspaper, August 2008)

    Yes, it's true.

    Born Into Brothels is a story of lies, half truths, distortions and exploitation. I invite you to read the newest blog and numerous other articles written on the hidden story behind the Hollywood-blessed "documentary." You read, you decide. It's your call.

    The blog can be found at

  2. Interesting. Thanks for the link. Has there been an outcome to the lawsuit?