Revitalising your creative spirit can be challenging at times. Watching photography documentaries can be extremely effective to break the rut. These documentaries are visually stunning, insightful and often depict the photographer’s journey in overcoming the struggles in his work and life. This ultimate list of documentaries ranges from some of the most influential to eccentric photographers, giving us a glimpse of what really makes them tick.
1. Edward Weston: The Photographer (1948)
This film chronicles the life and work of one of the most influential and innovative American photographer, Edward Weston. Although the photographer lacks his legendary energy in the documentary due to Parkinson’s, it depicts Weston revisiting some of the locations he made famous and follows him at home and work. A voice-over commentary sheds light on the remarkable photographer’s personality, inclinations and creative process. This documentary is an insightful record on one of the masters of the 20th century.
2. The Salt of the Earth
Sebastiao Salgado is recognized as one of the camera’s great artists. The man has traveled through continents and witnessed major events in the recent history in his career span of forty years. Following the body of work of this exceptional photographer, this documentary is enriched with the monochrome footage of Wim Wenders and the color footage of the photographer’s son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. The visuals are enticing and the film is a true ode to the prolific photographer.
3. Varanasi, India: “Beyond”
Continuing his photo series, ‘Holy Men’, the young photographer Joey L. Set embarks his journey to Varanasi with his assistant Ryan McCarney and filmmaker, Cale Glendening, timing the trip with ‘Maha Shivratri’ for which numerous sadhus gather in the city every year. Unlike many others, this exclusive documentary portrays the trio’s experience in an intimate setting as they bond with the small group of people, build relationships with the people they photograph and engulf themselves with the surroundings to give a fresh perspective of these wandering monks capturing an amazing portrait.
4. Natural Lighting Tips from Bob Holmes – Natural Light in Travel Photos
Award-winning travel photographer, Bob Holmes shares tips about natural lighting in the Marc Silber Show – Advancing Your Photography. With his extensive knowledge and experience by working outdoors, the photographer gives the insight to use natural lighting to get splendid shots in this interview.
5. Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens
The documentary traces the life of one of the most prolific photographers, Annie Leibovitz. Directed by her sister, Barbara Leibovitz this film is close and personal as the photographer shares her aspirations and trajectory in creating some of the iconic photos. The film even provides personal insights through interviews of the photographer’s subjects, mentors, and colleagues.
6. The Mysteries – In Pursuit Of The Perfect Shot
The documentary features adventure photographer Krystle Wright chasing her dream – a single vision – to make it a reality. The inspirational documentary showcases the irrevocable photographer as she relentlessly pursues her dream, even after four and a half years to make it a reality. This intimate journey is engaging, motivational and thought-provoking.
7. Entering New Worlds Through Photography
”What is that magic dust that sprinkled on a certain image that makes it more powerful than another image?” Thus begins Entering New Worlds Through Photography. Professional photographer Christopher Anderson is candid about his work and life-altering experience aboard a Haitan refugee boat that sank in the Caribbean. By capturing the spontaneous expressions of the fellow passengers at the brink of disaster, the photographer discovers the magic of perfect photographs.
8. Everybody Street – New York City Photography
Strapping a camera and roaming on the streets with a keen eye to capture the vivacity and present it to the world, this is the spirit of street photography. Paying a tribute to the same through a cinematic exploration of New York City, director Cheryl Dunn illuminates the lives and work of some iconic street photographers. The documentary portrays the perseverance, passion, the visceral rush and sometimes the danger customary to these photographers.
9. The Many Lives of William Klein (2012)
Do you want to know more about the most influential and the pioneer of art street photography? Then watch The Many Lives of William Klien to discover the charismatic personality behind the most striking fashion photographer of the 20th century. This hour-long film includes the first-ever documentary about Muhammad Ali and a brilliant satire of the fashion world.
10. David Yarrow Reveals his Photography Secrets
David Yarrow is an acclaimed photographer for capturing the beauty of remote landscapes, tribes and endangered animals. This documentary showcases the man himself revealing his unique methods and his penchant for monochrome images as we explore his photography of animals.
11. Join a Wildlife Photographer on the Hunt for the Perfect Shot
Joining Belgian wildlife photographer Michel d’Oultremont in his quest for the recently introduced Bison in Romania, the documentary gives a glimpse of the process or the wait to capture the animal in that microsecond to capture the perfect shot in the wild.
12. Climbing Ice-The Iceland Trifecta
Pushing boundaries, photographer Tim Kemple sets on an ice adventure with world-class climbers to document and attempt the impossible – climbing an iceberg, the vault of an ice cave and ice crevasse. The documentary captures the stunning beauty as the master climbers and the photographer scale the frigid crags of Iceland leaving things to chance and exploration.
13. Arctic Swell – Surfing the Ends of the Earth
Extreme surf photographer, Chris Burkard takes pleasure in working through the misery as he braves the sub-zero temperatures in the Arctic Circle along with professional surfers Patrick Millin, Brett Barley and Chadd Konig to catch a wave and tackle the next frontier. The documentary shot over a two-week period is sure to give the viewers an itch to explore the unfamiliar!
14. Tales By Light
As a six-part series, Tales by Light follows five photographic storytellers as they embark on a journey to explore the unchartered terrain throwing light on cultures, wildlife, and landscapes. Told from the eye of a storyteller, this visual expedition is a treat to watch as they unite photography, exploration and the natural world in one.
15. Frame By Frame
Frame by Frame follows four Afghan photojournalists: Farzana Wahidy, Massoud Hossaini, Wakil Kohsar and Najibullah Musafar in their pursuit to build free press post-Taliban regime. The feature-length documentary directed by Mo Scarpelli reframes Afghanistan to the world by navigating the dangerous media landscape through cinema vérité, intimate interviews, powerful photojournalism, and
never-before-seen archival footage shot in secret during the Taliban regime.
16. Imagine-The Colourful Mr. Eggleston
The Father of Color Photography, William Eggleston is an enigma despite his legendary status. Imagine, directed by Alan Yentob is an extraordinary film following the shy and elusive Egglestone shooting in his hometown, Memphis, Tennessee. This documentary is a must watch for generations of young photographers who have tried to follow the influential photographer.
17. Cindy Sherman – Nobody’s Here But Me (1994)
This documentary is an intimate portrait which records the working process of the American photographer, Cindy Sherman. One of its kind, it delves and showcases her motivation in the creation of unsettling and provocative images revealing unexpected sources and explores her interests. The controversial photographer talks unabashedly and reflects on the themes of her work including her pivotal series, ‘Sex Pictures’.
18. Finding Vivian Maier
This is the life story of Vivian Maier who earned a posthumous reputation as one of the most accomplished and insightful street photographers. The intriguing documentary directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel trace her career as a nanny in Chicago, France, and New York City by passionately documenting the world around her. The documentary is compelling with never-seen photographs, films and interviews with dozens of employers which evoke questions and sheds light on the photographer’s life.
19. Ansel Adams: Documentary Film 2002
The biographical film traces the life of the renowned American photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams. Exploring the meaning and legacy of his life and work, the director, Ric Burns creates a captivating narrative by examining the inspirations of the photographer with interviews from biographers, historians, family, and peers.
20. Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters
A striking documentary filmed with unprecedented access over a decade exhibits the meticulous and elaborate creative process of the acclaimed photographer, Gregory Crewdson. Known for taking fantastical pictures that seem real, this documentary bares the artist’s process while sharing details of his past.
21. McCullin Brothers
This terrific documentary takes us on a journey with Don Mccullin, the greatest living war photojournalist, to the three disastrous war-torn decades of his career when he was working for the Sunday Times. Mccullin gives us an insight to the moral implications and even sheds light on how the ethos of journalism has changed throughout his career.
22. Bill Cunningham New York
The film profiles the veteran cultural anthropologist, Bill Cunningham who has been recording street fashion trends with his candid photography for the New York Times for decades. Cunningham’s enormous body of work is on display which reveals the astute observation and dedication of the photographer with a tint of humor. This heartening documentary is truly a feast for the eyes.
23. Genius of Photography
The genius of Photography is a six-part series dedicated to trace back the 170 years of art through the lens. Featuring some of the most well-known photographers, it explores their work and gives an insight into various aspects such as daguerreotype, portrait, digital, photojournalism, art, and advertising. This inspiring and knowledgeable documentary even features interviews and encounters with some of the notable living photographers today.
24. Underfire: The Untold Story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro (HBO Documentary Films)
This is the story a 21-year- old Tony Vaccaro, a WWII combat infantryman on the frontlines who smuggled his camera to record the intimate footage of the war with roughly eight thousand pictures. With a compelling narrative, the film deals with the sheer difficulty of survival in such tense situation and the contemporary issues regarding combat photography and the ethical challenges faced.
One of its kind, this documentary chases the dream of Reuben Krabbe, an adventure photographer, to capture a mind-bending photo of a skier with a backdrop of total solar eclipse. Embarking on the impossible task, Salomon Freeski team follows the photographer to the Arctic for an event that was only going to last a couple of minutes and the fate of which was solely dependant on the weather conditions. This documentary inspires you to chase your dream and shows how eclipses are much more than a mere visual spectacle.
26. Naked States
This film documents the quest of Spencer Tunick, a professional on mass nude photos who sets to travels the U.S. in search of volunteers to pose nude for his out-law photo-shoots. It records the photographer’s struggles, his brushes with the law and the mindsets of the willing subjects who are ready to bear it all in front of the camera.
27. The Mother Project
The Mother Project is an intricate portrait of Tierney Gearon’s as she photographs her manic-depressive schizophrenic mother. The remarkable documentary shows the photographer’s journey along this personal project and is a layered exploration of unconventional family relationships and the photographer’s distinctive thinking which has a subversive beauty that emerges amidst the madness.
28. Waste Land (2010)
The profoundly moving film follows the modern artist Vik Muniz to Jardim Gramacho, the world’s largest landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro with only one objective – to use art to transform the lives of catadores. This uplifting movie encourages people to see the dignity of the poor as Muniz picks six subjects to pose in a series of photographs that mimic famous art using recycled materials picked by them. By auctioning the art, this film comes full-circle transforming the lives of these scavengers and recycling the mindsets of the people.
29. BBC LOMO Documentary
A riveting tale on the Lomographic society and movement with trivia about the camera and its influence in the history. With interesting interviews and good imagery, this documentary is a must watch for all Lomographic fans!
30. Masters of photography – Diane Arbus (1972)
The half-hour documentary explores the work of the photographer, Diane Arbus by showcasing multiple viewpoints of her daughter and closest friends including her own thoughts as recorded in her journal. The narrative is illustrated with various photographs that depict the often neglected stratum of the society that makes one think and wonder.
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