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Photography On Film: The 10 Best Movies About Photography

by Hanna Brooks Olsen
featured, photo & video

vivian maierSome professions are commonly used as plot devices — how many times have we seen the single female journalist/writer gallivanting through films? — while others are rarely depicted. Like photography. In spite of the fact that film and photo have a great deal in common, there are relatively few movies about photography, or featuring photographers. But there are some!

Most recently, Finding Vivian Maier (pictured, leftput the spotlight on the secret photographers who may lurk among us, but before the world was captivated by large sum of negatives won at an auction, there were fictionalized depictions of icons, heart-wrenching documentaries about the power of photography in the lives of children, and creepy-weird stories about what happens when you turn your film in to have it developed.

Here are 10 of the best movies about photography and photographers.

Rear Window: This one’s a classic, wherein a photographer plays a central roll in the plot, even using his flashbulbs in a particularly heroic moment.

William Egglston in the Real World: Largely regarded as the man who made color photography credible in the field, William Eggleston is kind of an enigmatic character, which is what makes this 2009 documentary by Michael Almereyda especially fascinating. And while it’s not the only Eggleston documentary, it’s one of the better ones. 

Looking to create your own videos? RSVP for Making a Short Documentary with award winning documentarians Ed Kashi & Julie Winokur on June 12.

One Hour Photo: Bet you never felt the same way about dropping off your film at Rite-Aid after seeing this Robin Williams thriller. Unlike a lot of movies about photography and photographers, this one doesn’t focus on the craft, but rather, on the potential abuse of the medium. Still, we think it counts — plus, it’s a beautifully-shot film.

Photo courtesy Summit Entertainment.

Courtesy Summit Entertainment.

Memento: Why are most photography films thrillers? 2000’s Memento is no exception. Lauded for his playful use of chronology, this film garnered Christopher Nolan quite a bit of positive critical response — which just goes to show that getting creative with your medium can pay off.

What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann: Sally Mann’s work is both haunting and captivating — and nothing if not controversial. Her images range from intimate portraits of her young children (which some critics have alleged are inappropriate for publication) to close-up photographs of decaying bodies at “the body farm,” (i.e. the Forensic Anthropology Facility in Knoxville). Mann is a compelling speaker, who talks at great length about process and the creation of art, maybe “What Remains” an interesting watch for both photographers and non-photographers alike.

Pecker: Pecker is a rare bird, in that it focuses on a fictional photographer who begins to rise to stardom and has to deal with life in the public eye — a fairly familiar story in real life, but one that isn’t often told in fiction or film. It’s also a who’s-who of the 1990s, complete with Edward Furlong and Christina Ricci.

Looking to create your own videos? RSVP for Making a Short Documentary with award winning documentarians Ed Kashi & Julie Winokur on June 12.

Amélie: Ok, Amélie isn’t purely a movie about photography, but photographs do play a major point in this French film that captivated American audiences in late 2001 when it was released. And truthfully, if the response to films like Finding Vivian Maier has taught us anything, it’s that the recovery of photographs is an extremely compelling narrative.

Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens: How do you talk about your own work when your work is some of the most iconic in history? In Life Through a Lens, Annie Leibovitz manages to do so with humor and self-awareness that’s surprising, considering her incredible and storied life and work.

Born into Brothels: Another documentary, although this one isn’t about a photographer you’ve heard of. The film follows Zana Briski, who went to Calcutta to photograph the many prostitutes who live and work there. However, she ended up befriending their children and teaching them how to take photographs. After the film, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2005, Briski went on to create a non-profit called Kids with Cameras to continue her teaching.

Blow-Up: Another total classic, this Michelangelo Antonioni film is similar to Rear Window, in that it’s about a photographer who witnesses a murderer, but it’s definitely got a different feel. And, a fun fact, the film’s leading man is based on English fashion photographer David Bailey. Oh, and the Yardbirds are in it.

Don’t agree? Think we missed one? Feel free to share your favorite movies about photography in the comments.

Looking to create your own videos? RSVP for Making a Short Documentary with award winning documentarians Ed Kashi & Julie Winokur on June 12.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.