10 Movies Every Photographer Should See

Don’t know about you, but what’s nicer than chilling out to a good movie after a hard day’s work. The Internet turns our computers into phenomenal movie libraries with access to every movie imaginable, such as Amazon’s Instant Video. Well you know the name of the game… While everyone has his or her favorite genre, here’s a list of top movies about photography and photographers you don’t want to miss:

The movies follow in random order as it’s highly subjective to pretend this or that is the best flick and so forth. Nevertheless, my personal favorite pick? That’s easily Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni’s first English-language production Blow-Up with a great plot and an amazing David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave:

Blow-Up (1966)

Blow-Up (1966)
Blow-Up (1966)

An arty thriller, Blow-Up to this day remains a thought-provoking, fascinating film portraying swinging alienation. Filled with ennui, bored with his “fab” but oddly-lifeless existence of casual sex and drug use, Thomas (David Hemmings) comes alive when he wanders through a park, stops to take pictures of a couple embracing, and upon developing the images, believes that he has photographed a murder.

Pursued by Jane (Vanessa Redgrave), the woman who is in the photos, Thomas pretends to give her the pictures, but in reality, he passes off a different roll of film to her. Thomas returns to the park and discovers that there is, indeed, a dead body lying in the shrubbery: the gray-haired man who was embracing Jane. Has she murdered him, or does Thomas’ photo reveal a man with a gun hiding nearby?

Antonioni’s thriller is a puzzling, existential, adroitly-assembled masterpiece. Underneath the surface, this brilliant photography movie asks fundamental questions. 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.

The Impassioned Eye (2006)

The Impassioned Eye (2006)
The Impassioned Eye (2006)

The Impassioned Eye on Henri Cartier-Bresson’s life and work is a wonderful movie about the humble man who has written history with his images. HCB needs no introduction, but the fact that he was always reluctant to offer himself up as a subject/object, this documentary from director Heinz Bütler offers a rare moment alone with the photographer as he explores his portfolio and offers detailed insight into the remarkable images that to this day are in a league of their own.

The Mexican Suitcase (2011)

The Mexican Suitcase (2011)
The Mexican Suitcase (2011)

The documentary The Mexican Suitcase is the story of three lost boxes known as the Mexican Suitcase that were recovered in 2007. The boxes, misplaced in the chaos at the start of World War II, contained many of the Spanish Civil War negatives by the legendary photographer Robert Capa and fellow photographers Gerda Taro and David “Chim” Seymour.

The photography movie tells the story of the mysterious journey of the long-forgotten photo material of these famous photographers and how it finally appeared again.

One Hour Photo (2002)

One Hour Photo (2002)
One Hour Photo (2002)

Another surprise is One Hour Photo with late Robin Williams. An alienated photo-finisher’s obsession with a seemingly ordinary family culminates in his bizarre confrontation with an unfaithful father.

Semour “Sy” Parrish (Williams) is dedicated to his job, and takes great pride in his work. It’s 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. One of Williams’ most haunting performances — definitely not the man you are used to seeing.

War Photographer (2001)

War Photographer (2001)
War Photographer (2001)

Swiss director Christian Frei’s documentary War Photographer follows the acclaimed American photojournalist James Nachtwey as he finds stories in some of the most desolate locations on the planet.

The distinctive look of the film is achieved because Frei mounted a small camera on Nachtwey’s camera. As the audience sees the world Nachtwey sees through his camera, a series of talking heads explain his bravery, greatness, and persistence. Slowly, the film reveals the emotional toll his work has taken on him.

Nachtwey, to me one of the greatest authentic photographers alive, to this day remains at the forefront of socio-political issues. His photos are about loss and pain, about division and despair. Not that war, conflict and famine are a photographer’s ideal fertile soil, but most unapologetically he shows people and life as they are.

This exceptional, eye-opening photography movie gets as close as possible to the mind of Nachtwey. It portrays a man in his heroic attempt to show how cruel and brutal the world can be.

Frames From the Edge (1989)

Frames From the Edge (1989)
Frames From the Edge (1989)

Frames From the Edge is an excellent documentary on famed photographer Helmut Newton, to whom stunningly beautiful women were always less temptation than business proposition.

To the despair of his models, it could take hours until Newton got the shot he wanted. Not an easy character for sure, this film is as much about Newton’s infamous, reputedly quite huge ego as it is about some of his most famous models, including Catherine Deneuve, Charlotte Rampling and Sigourney Weaver. And stars Karl Lagerfeld.

Helmut Newton was always about innovation and provocation. Strong women in lascivious poses, confident, mysterious in Helmut Newton’s photography, the lines between art and pornography are blurred. Whether fashion, portraiture or nudes, Newton’s dramatically staged, voyeuristic shots are also reflections of Western society. Frames From the Edge is indeed about frames from the edge.

The Bang-Bang Club (2011)

The Bang-Bang Club (2011)
The Bang-Bang Club (2011)

The Bang-Bang Club — Snapshots From a Hidden War, is a hardly known and amazingly good movie. It’s the true story of four young combat photographers bonded by friendship and their sense of purpose to tell the truth.

The film that explores the thrills, danger and moral questions associated with exposing the truth. While it’s not a classic Hollywood flick, certainly not a movie you want to miss.

High Art (1998)

High Art (1998)
High Art (1998)

High Art is a story of ambition, sacrifice, seduction and other career moves. The romantic drama about a photo magazine editor and the heroin-addicted former photo prodigy with whom she falls in love is ripe in cliches and artifice, but also promises a solid, sexy drama with a dash of wit.

A reclusive, once-acclaimed photographer, a junkie German former actress and luscious cinematography all packed into a photography drama, a well-deserved Sundance award winner.

Visions of Light (1993)

Visions of Light (1993)
Visions of Light (1993)

After Visions of Light ‘s 92 minutes are up, you can’t but help come away deeply impressed by the talents of the great magicians behind the cameras. Featuring clips from over one hundred films and interviews with numerous famed directors of photography, this documentary provides a general overview of the history of cinematography by focusing on some of the cinema’s greatest visual achievements.

Technically, this isn’t a movie. It’s a documentary about movies. Any serious photographer with a heartbeat will be inspired by these cinematographers’ vision and ability to render magic results with light and technique. Will definitely influence anyone’s photography. You might want to watch it several times to get so much out of it.

Carte Blanche (????)

Carte Blanche (????)
Carte Blanche (????)

This is a carte blanche, over to you. There’s a wealth of more movies on photographers and photography.

Honorable mentions are certainly deserved by Under Fire (Nick Nolte), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) or Baraka (!), an epic documentary containing countless scenes photographers would kill for to have them captured themselves. You’ll be hypnotized, mesmerized, to say the least. How is such a movie even possible! Because life is so rich.

Now, which movie(s) you recommend?

  • Excellent selection!

  • Lorenzo Moscia

    Salvador by Oliver Stone, 1986

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      • reviveramesh

        great list – perhaps making it 20 and asking readers to add in would make it comprehensive – otherwise there is always that awkward chance that you have missed something – these days with so much information from everywhere 20 is a meaningful list

  • Andy Umbo

    Plenty you missed: Public Eye (loosely based on WeeGee), The Governess (Minnie Driver becoming a photographer at the dawn of the ‘art’). I’ll have to think of some more…

  • Andy Umbo

    Rear Window (Hitchcock, and saved by a flash!). A sleeper: Johnny Skidmarks (the closest thing I’ve seen in 20 years that shows how a photographer used to function in the day of film: Peter Gallagher as a crime seen photographer).

  • Omer

    Well, we’re all probably overloaded on the Vivian Maier enigma and most have seen the current “Finding Vivian Maier” documentary. But there was another Vivian Maier documentary made, produced I believe by BBC which preceded the current John Maloof version. Unfortunately the BBC version seems to have disappeared. Too bad because it offered some different views and insights. Perhaps somebody knows where the BBC version is hiding?

    For fiction how ’bout Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler.” For backdrop it uses video rather than photography but like “One Hour Photo,” the movie is really a dark character study. The cast is headed by the great Jake Gyllenhaal, with wonderful performances by Rene Russo and others.

  • albert

    Pecker (by John Waters; comedy, obviously). Shutter (horror; not very good, though).

  • Peter Bregman

    Z (1969) Yves Montand Made me want to be a photographer big time.