Photography and filmmaking go hand in hand. Photographie has robbed filmmaking of its understanding of cinematography. The ability to convey moving images in a way that looks like a postcard is a direct descendant of the art of photography itself. If a photographer wants to get better at what he or she does, he or she should learn from filmmakers and cinematographers.
Still photographers should watch films that portray the art of photography through the lens of Hollywood as well as documentaries that tell the stories of well-known photographers.
The following are 20 films about photography that every photographer should see, listed in no particular order.
1. One Hour Photo (2002)
A dark thriller featuring an inspired Robin Williams playing a Walmart one-hour photo clerk who ended up stalking a family whose pictures he regularly takes and develops.
2. High Art (1998)
An independent art house film that is brooding, melancholy and beautifully shot. The film’s heroine, Radha Mitchell is a young intern at a small magazine that falls in love with a drug addicted lesbian photographer, Ally Sheedy. Both of them take advantage of the other in order to further their own goals.
3. Rear Window (1954)
The main character, James Stewart, stars alongside Grace Kelly in this classic Hitchcock thriller about a wheelchair bound photographer who spies on his neighbors through the lens of his camera. In one of his voyeuristic episodes he is convinced he sees one of them commit a murder.
4. Closer (2004)
Jude Law and Clive Owen star as a portrait photographer and Julia Roberts plays the film’s lead.
While only a small portion of the photography process is shown in the film, the film as a whole was beautifully shot and accurately depicts the photography process.
5. Pecker (1998)
An excellent film with a distinct indie vibe, aided greatly by the creative vision of director John Waters. As weird as it is, Edward Furlong does an excellent job as the small town sandwich shop employee who becomes an overnight fine art photography sensation after being discovered by a big city art dealer and guided through the world of the tongue-in-cheek fine art photography scene.
6. Blow-Up (1966)
This cult classic from the 1960s follows David Hemmings’ Thomas, a fashion photographer who accidentally captures a murder on film while developing one of his photographs in the darkroom.
7. Proof (1991)
It’s a lesser-known Russell Crowe film from his early career, in which his character tells a blind photographer (Hugo Weaving in his role before The Matrix) about the pictures he took. It’s a cliche, but the film was superbly shot and acted in every way.
8. Under Fire (1983)
In the final days of Nicaragua’s corrupt Somozoa regime before it was overthrown by a popular revolution in 1979, three journalists in a love triangle get caught up in political intrigue. Nick Nolte portrays a wartime photojournalist in Under Fire, a technically sound film.
9. City of God (2002)
This harrowing depiction of life in Brazil’s favelas and streets shows the maturation of two boys, one of whom goes on to become a professional photographer. One of the best films in recent years, and one of the best films ever made about photography.
10. Gentleman’s Relish (2001)
Billy Connolly plays frustrated artist Kingdom Swann, who accepts a camera as a life-changing gift in this early 20th-century London comedy. Taking up photography as a new hobby, he shows off his talent by taking more provocative portraits of women in classical settings, putting himself in the spotlight of scornful fame.
11. Everlasting Moments (2008)
A Swedish film about a woman who wins a camera during World War II in a lottery. Photographic interest develops in Maria Heiskanen’s lead character, though she struggles. In the end, though, her passion for photography and decision to keep the camera change her entire perspective of the world and herself.
12. Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2006)
Diane “Fur” Arbus, a legendary American photographer, is the subject of this biopic, which stars Nicole Kidman. It tells the story of a New York housewife who embarks on an adventure into the world of photography in order to capture images of people who are marginalized by society.
13. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
When Walter Mitty, a Life Magazine negative assets manager, decides to track down Sean O’ Connell, played by Sean Penn, he finds himself on the most incredible adventure of his life.
O’Conell’s “quintessence of Life” negative #25 was supposed to be the cover of Life Magazine’s final issue, but it was stolen.
14. Harrison’s Flowers (2000)
During the Yugoslav civil war in 1991, Andie MacDowell plays the wife of a missing photojournalist who was reported missing. For the sake of locating her missing husband, she joins forces with two other photographers, played by Brendan Gleeson and Adrien Brody.
15. Born into Brothels (2004)
After visiting a Calcutta brothel, two filmmakers hand out cameras to child prostitutes so they can document their daily lives. With this insight into their world, their photographs were displayed in a New York gallery and were also inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time.
16. War Photographer (2001)
A personal look at the life and work of photojournalist James Nachtwey, who documents the horrors of war around the world. Other than taking pictures, Nachtwey’s job allows viewers into his head, where he tries in vain to find the logic behind war’s brutality and cruelty.
17. The Mexican Suitcase (2011)
Filmmaker Trisha Ziff investigates the mysterious appearance in 2007 in Mexico City of long-forgotten and previously unpublished photographs by Robert Capa, David Seymour, and Gerda Taro, three civil war photographers.
18. Annie Leibovitz “Life Through A Lens” (2008)
Famous people like Whoopi Goldberg, Kirsten Dunst, Kiera Knightly, Mick Jagger, and more look at famed photographer Annie Leibovitz.
19. Guest of Cindy Sherman (2008)
With her chameleon-like photography style, Cindy Sherman talks about being the master of disguise in this documentary, which gives viewers an up-close look at her creative process.
20. Frames from the Edge: Helmut Newton (2009)
Following Helmut Newton to his favorite shooting locations in Paris, Monte Carlo, Los Angeles and Berlin, this film blurs the lines between pornography and photography.
The remainder, however, is as follows: