I spend a lot of my time photographing culture, music, arts and entertainment so this is one of a series of infrequent posts looking at books, movies, visual culture, music etc. that IMO are worth spending time with in some way. My gut reactions and songs of praise or pillory.
Picture This: Some films for photographers (and other interested parties).
On the look-out for inspiration for your photography or creativity? Or maybe a Christmas stocking filler for the photographer in your life? Or just want to sit down and watch something a bit different? Try these films for photographers:
1 EVERYBODY STREET
Director: Cheryl Dunn
This (as it’s geographic focus would suggest) is a sparky, volatile documentary about New Yorks’ multitude of street photographers. It’s also about the appeal of the city as a hunting ground for all manner of these photographic animals (including Joel Myerowitz, Bruce Gilden, Jill Freedman, Martha Cooper, Jamel Shabazz etc etc). As Joel Myerowitz infers, street photography is about stepping out into chaos and saying “show me”. It’s a way “of learning to read your culture, which is a great fascination for photographers.” If you have a fascination for (or are engaged in) street photography in all it’s forms then this is a great romp through the thoughts and experiences of these photographic obsessives whose canvas is the ribald and unwieldy streets and people of the Big Apple. It’s also a reminder that photography and photographers must never let the world around them lose its excitement. Nor should their enthusiasm or curiosity for it ever be dimmed or compromised.
2 IN NO GREAT HURRY – 13 LESSONS IN LIFE WITH SAUL LEITER
Director: Tomas Leach
In some ways this film and FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (see below) are companion pieces. To me at least. They both take a look at American photographers who were once unknown or overlooked, yet whose work stands as testament to the ability of the photographic image to bestride time and still speak decades later. Leiter’s ability was ‘recognised’ in his early career as he worked as a fashion photographer for the likes of Harper’s Bazaar in the 50’s and 60’s. But it has only been in the past 5 years or so that his entire catalogue of work (including street photography and nudes) has been seen as part of a unique and very beautiful vision. Both films are filled with an air of gentle melancholy, though harder to maintain in this instance due to Saul Leiter’s humorous, curmudgeonly character. If ever there was a photographer or artist who never wanted to be acknowledged for what he did, Leiter is your man. He actually has an avid disdain for the spotlight. He has no real concept of the notion of ‘pioneer’ (which many have christened him in light of his now famous early colour work – which, if you’ve never seen you really ought to as it is extraordinary). Like Vivian Maier, there’s a serenity and resistance to haste in Leiter’s work and character that speak of life and art made with very different motivations to those that prevail today. It’s a short film, and more a meditation on age and memory than on photography directly, but fascinating nonetheless. Worth buying this alongside Leiter’s book ‘Early Colour‘.
3 ANTON CORBIJN – INSIDE OUT
DVD available here on Amazon (or elsewhere).
Director: Klaartje Quirijns
A revealing documentary about prolific Dutch photographer and film-maker Anton Corbijn. Corbijn is famous for his work with U2, G-Star Raw and Joy Division, as well as directing movies such as The American with George Clooney. This documentary centres on the fact that for Corbijn (as it is for many of us) his personal journey is a quest for answers. In Corbijn’s case this journey began with the exchange of ideas between photography and music. But it is also about “The pain of creation. A feeling of struggle, working something out,” as he puts it himself. It’s a fascinating look into his history, motivations and working practice including the driven, hard work that he puts in. I found it enlightening that even a photographer of this stature gets nervous before client viewings (mind you the clients are Metallica and Lou Reed so perhaps it’s understandable!!). More than this though, what comes across is the consumption of life to the photographic impulse. Of giving photography and image-making everything (perhaps too much?) and the obsession with detail. Of course, these things are the absolute reasons why photographers do what they do and why Corbijn is so respected.
4 UNDER THE SKIN
DVD available here on Amazon (or elsewhere).
Director: Jonathan Glazer
If there’s one film out of the six here, this is the one that will probably have the most profound effect on the viewer (although number 5 is also a runner for that too, but in a different way). In fact, I can’t write this without saying that it’s one of the best and at the same time most disturbing films I have seen in a long time. The last time I had the same visceral response to a movie was watching the original OLDBOY (by Park Chan-Wook). Directed by Jonathan Glazer (SEXY BEAST) with Scarlet Johansson in a potentially career-defining role (she’s got ‘balls’ – if you’ve seen the film, pardon the pun – choosing a role like this). If you have any interest in visual storytelling, then this film as a must (IMO). Under the skin by name, under the skin by nature. It stirs up questions about the nature of beauty and our perceptions of what is beautiful. For photographers that’s important stuff: I’d go so far as to say it’s the proverbial ‘meat’ of what we do. We live in an age where the criteria for what we consider beautiful are indelibly linked with our commercial and consumer mindsets – whether that’s physical, geographic or emotional beauty – they’ve all become prejudiced by cultural mindsets that actually aren’t very real. It’s amazing to see work like this being made in 21st Century – both forward looking and reflecting on the past of such film-makers as Nic Roeg (e.g. Don’t Look Now – in fact to watch these cinematic siblings back to back would probably be close to permanently traumatizing your nervous system!!). There’s a strong cinema verite feel within the extraordinary surreal/horror elements of this film and, for me, it is here that one can discover it’s inspiration: that beauty and ‘ugliness’, truth and the lies are always and only ever about personal perception. The real ‘beauty’ of our every day existence is present in documentary detail in parts of this movie which I would suggest parallel aspects of the EVERYBODY STREET documentary above: shopping malls, street intimacy, queues, unspoken thoughts, beggars, oily streets. This film is definitely not ‘safe’. Be prepared.
5 WHICH WAY IS THE FRONT LINE FROM HERE?
DVD available here on Amazon (or elsewhere).
Director: Sebastian Junger
Where UNDER THE SKIN is frightening because of the physical terror inherent in beauty, WHICH WAY is frightening because of the very real psychological terror of warfare. Tim Hetherington was a young photojournalist committed to “build bridges to people” who ultimately gave his life in the pursuit of doing just that through his photography and film-making. This documentary is seriously frightening. It shows us the dark and chaotic world of civil wars in Liberia and Libya, as well as tragic events in Afghanistan. Again we see a photographer who completely submerges himself in his subject matter to the point where the photography ends and the human takes over, investigating their environment in a highly personal way as an extension of their beliefs and, dare I say it, soul. It is an utterly moving and tragic portrayal of a man of rare integrity and courage.
6 FINDING VIVIAN MAIER
http://www.findingvivianmaier.com/ (not sure this is available on DVD but I found it on iTunes for download).
Director: Charles Siskel & John Maloof
If you haven’t heard the story of Vivian Maier then you’ve probably been spending time on another planet. It’s been reported on nearly every major news network around the world over the past couple of years. It’s a fascinating and sad story of an undiscovered ‘amateur’ photographer whose catalogue of incredible street photography was discovered by chance and published to (literally) overnight global acclaim. Personally I find it hard to watch this documentary without shedding a tear. For me that’s a response to Vivian Maier’s unaffected and honest devotion to capturing her days and the people around her. She did it with such a sense of engagement with life that resulted in some truly timeless images. Add all this to the fact that she was never acknowledged for her work in her lifetime and that’s what gets to me. So much art and so many incredible artists remain ignored in their lifetimes. Yet the creative urge never dims within them. As a film it runs out of steam about half way through, however the work shines and there’s something about the unaffected way that Ms Maier went about making images that remains an inspiration.