15 Movies Every Photographer Should See

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The early predecessor to modern films were similar to what we call stop motion today, stills fixed to a round drum and hand cranked to create an animated picture. It makes sense then that hundreds of films have been made paying homage to photographers and photography. This is by no means a comprehensive list and it is mostly based on opinion, so I'm sure people will have films they feel should be listed. So by all means add any films you think should be added in the comments.

  • Blowup (1966) A mod London photographer believes that he has photographed a murder.
  • The Public Eye (1992) Story of a 1940s photographer who specializes in crime and in not getting involved... until this time. (Based on Weegee)
  • The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) A young Australian reporter tries to navigate the political turmoil of Indonesia during the rule of President Sukarno with the help of a diminutive photographer. 
  • Somebody Has To Shoot The Picture (1990) Raymond Eames, a small-time drug dealer, has been sentenced to death for the shooting death of a policeman. After seven years of appeals are exhausted, the date of his execution arrives. His last request is that his execution be photographed. Eames selects Paul Marish, a jaded Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, who is convinced by his agent to visit the small town in Georgia. Sensing a big story, Marish's agent sends in a reporter from Time magazine, and together they begin to investigate the events surrounding the murder, in a small town where emotions are high and opinions are fixed. 

  • Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2006) Turning her back on her wealthy, established family, Diane Arbus falls in love with Lionel Sweeney, an enigmatic mentor who introduces Arbus to the marginalized people who help her become one of the most revered photographers of the twentieth century.
  • Rear Window (1954) A wheelchair bound photographer spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder.
  • Funny Face (1957) Fashion photographer Dick Avery, in search for an intellectual backdrop for an air-headed model, expropriates a Greenwich Village bookstore. When the photo session is over the store is left in a shambles, much to salesgirl Jo Stockton's dismay. Avery stays behind to help her clean up. Later, he examines the photos taken there and sees Jo in the background of one shot. He is intrigued by her unique appearance, as is Maggie Prescott, the editor of a leading fashion magazine. They offer Jo a modeling contract, which she reluctantly accepts only because it includes a trip to Paris. Eventually, her snobbish attitude toward the job softens, and Jo begins to enjoy the work and the company of her handsome
  • Proof (1991) A blind photographer takes pictures as “proof” that the world he photographs is as it’s described to him by other people. Stars a young Russell Crowe.
  • High Art (1998) Heroin addicted once famous art photographer Lucy (Ally Sheedy in her best role) strikes up a friendship with a magazine editor who tries to convince her to get back into the art scene. Patricia Clarkson is brilliant in the role of her former girlfriend who also struggles with addiction
  • Gentlemen’s Relish (2001) Billy Connolly stars in a rambunctious period comedy detailing the celluloid exploits of a 20th Century London photographer who specializes in deliciously scandalous snapshots. Kingdom Swan (Connolly) is an artist whose career seems to be on the downturn until he receives a camera as a gift. Subsequently establishing himself as a photographer who specializes in capturing the unclad human form in lavish classical settings, Swan quickly becomes the scornful figure of notoriety to a the painfully prudish upper crust.

  • Double Exposure: The Story of Margaret Bourke-White (1989) Farrah Fawcett stars as the famed photojournalist, whose work for Life magazine from 1936 onward gained her worldwide celebrity. Focuses on Burke-White's stormy relationship with her husband, novelist Erskine Caldwell. 
  • The Killing Fields (1984) A photographer is trapped in Cambodia during tyrant Pol Pot's bloody "Year Zero" cleansing campaign, which claimed the lives of two million "undesirable" civilians. 

  • Salvador (1986) A journalist, down on his luck in the US, drives to El Salvador to chronicle the events of the 1980 military dictatorship, including the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. He forms an uneasy alliance with both guerillas in the countryside who want him to get pictures out to the US press, and the right-wing military, who want him to bring them photographs of the rebels. Meanwhile he has to find a way of protecting his Salvadorean girlfriend and getting her out of the country.
  • The Photographer (1974) A murder story with a comedic twist. A famous photographer uses his models for more than taking pictures. He needs them as victims to satisfy his blood-lust. Each murder becomes more bizarre than the next.
  • Shutter (2004) A photographer and his new wife discover disturbing, ghostly images in photographs they develop after a tragic accident. Fearing the manifestations may be connected, they investigate and learn that some mysteries are better left unsolved. 

Also watch for the new movie "The Bang Bang Club" A drama based on the true-life experiences of four combat photographers capturing the final days of apartheid in South Africa.


DanmacK April 9, 2011 at 12:00 PM  

Cool, thankx Lou ... there are some here I have not seen .

I'd say this is a tale of a photographers misadventure and obsession with getting the shot / fame .

#16 " The Midnight Meat Train "

mikkiansin April 9, 2011 at 7:24 PM  

Interesting selection, Lou. I'd make some changes....raise the bar a bit. but then, I'm an old film school person.

Rebecca Cauchon April 11, 2011 at 3:02 AM  

you forgot the one with Nick Nolte, Under Fire...great movie!

Geoffrey Ellis Aronson,  April 11, 2011 at 10:50 AM  

It`s good to see the list finally in print. It would make for a good small book, complete with articles previously published culled from the trade presses concerning each of the movies, and maybe a foreward by Andy Grundberg and/or Roger Ebert.

Another idea for a photo/cine themed book is one on famous sets used in movies. You know, find the petroleum refinery used in James Cagney`s PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE in which he screams triumphantly LOOK MA, I`M ON TOP OF THE WORLD. Or for the books theme, the actual courtyard used in REAR WINDOW,the park used in BLOW UP, etc. etc.

David Tames April 11, 2011 at 1:29 PM  

If you ever contemplate expanding this list, there's one amazing film that I suggest should be on the list, Shadow of the House, a film by Allie Humenuk about photographer Abelardo Morell. The film is gently observed and beatifully shot.

e.a.kennedy3 April 12, 2011 at 11:31 AM  

Besides Under fire, Public Eye are the only two movies that graphically demonstrate the process of seeing. By using the camera to frame what it is the main character is seeing and then using either the sound of a shutter or in the case of Public Eye turning the scene from color to black and white, the movies do an admirable job of demonstrating the "decisive" moment, when a photograph becomes a photograph in the photographers mind.

Penny Ann Dolin April 13, 2011 at 7:24 AM  

Don't forget Mel Brook's answer to Blow Up - "High Anxiety", one of my favorite.

Karl Baden April 29, 2011 at 8:52 AM  

interesting documentary from the '80s about paparrazi. it's called 'Blast 'Em'

Anonymous,  May 1, 2011 at 6:54 AM  

Excellent Viewing list. I especially liked the Director's comments from the Rear Window and High Art. This was the first time that I'd seen either movie. I kept thinking to myself during Rear Window that the actress was stunning (duh). It was the first time that I recognized Grace Kelly--she was amazing. The photographic tips in these moving are incredible. Funny Face was also instructive. Even through the acting by Fred Astire, you could see the imprint of Avedon on the white seamless and location work. Fur bothered me a little because it was only loosely based on reality.

L Greene

Lou Jones May 10, 2011 at 10:06 AM  

@danmack i havent heard about the film midnight meat train
what is it about?
ill try & check it out soon

Lou Jones May 10, 2011 at 10:09 AM  

@mikkiansin how do i raise the bar?
do you have a list of high brow movies that i have missed?
id love to know more about them?
send them over please

Lou Jones May 10, 2011 at 10:16 AM  

@a.e.kennedy3 besides under fire & public eye which are both on our bigger list you can add "Z" a movie by costa gavras
amazing film & he used the motordrive as sound effects
it sent chills up my spine years ago when i saw it

dudley206098 May 22, 2013 at 10:41 AM  

Everlasting Moments2008NR131 minutes
After marrying charming but coarse Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt), Maria (Maria Heiskanen) finds that her life isn't the fairy tale she expected, as her husband gradually becomes more brutal. But when she becomes involved in photography, Maria gains a new lease on life. Filmmaker Jan Troell based this Golden Globe-nominated drama on a manuscript written by his wife, Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell, chronicling the events of her ancestors in the early 20th century.


Serkan Mutan May 24, 2014 at 3:27 PM  

very nice list....thanks. I want to add....

Films For Photographers

Post a Comment

About This Blog

blog (blŏg, bläg) n. 1. short for Weblog 2. online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer 3. diary that is posted on the Internet 4. an experiment to verbalize my observations about the status of photography. It will be eclectic & deal with philosophy & practice of this universal art form. It will strive for periodic commentary about issues many photographers face, like ownership and the economy. It will also talk about pictures and what makes good ones and how to get them. No hardware. No software. No recycled clichés. No whining.