Great Movies about Photographers

u2 photo by anton corbijn

Photography and film are both artistic mediums that are bound by the camera, one captures moving imagery, the other still.

And while photography plays a critical role in film production (after all the cinematographer is essentially the movie’s photographer framing and shooting all the action for the director), cinema doesn’t have a great record of making films about actual photographers. There are exceptions, naturally, as you shall see from this list. But the number of awful films made documenting the lives of photographers is plentiful.

Think about the disastrous attempt at making a biopic of iconic 60s photographer Arbus in “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus” (2005) with Nicole Kidman. The answer is in the title, the movie wasn’t about the life of Arbus (mainly because copyright surrounding her is guarded heavily) but a surreally bad attempt at creating a fictional romance between Arbus and a neighbour (Robert Downey Jr.) who suffers from severe Hypertrichosis.

Top: A photo of U2 taken during the filming of “Anton Corbijn Inside Out” (2012).
Annie Leibovitz phottography documentary annie leibovitz black and white
Top: Iconic 20th century photographer Annie Leibovitz. Bottom: One of her striking portraits of ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens

Not surprisingly a lot of the titles on this list are documentaries, as this is arguably the best format to tackle the life of a photographer. We get to hear their work through their own eyes and words. One of the greatest and most famous photographers of all time, Annie Leibovitz is captured here in an eye-opening documentary film directed by her sister Barbara. We get the full trajectory of Leibovitz’s life, both as an artist and human being. All the highlights of an extraordinary artist are here, told by a plethora of A-List names who have sat for or worked with her. It’s in the quieter moments of the film, away from the celebrities, that really strike a chord: Leibovitz discussing her decades long relationship with noted writer Susan Sontag, accompanied by beautiful photography.

william eggleston photography colour
william eggleston colour documentary
William Eggleston’s extraordinary gift for colour photography.

William Eggleston in the Real World

An iconic 20th century photographer as they come, Eggleston is reputable in the art world for his contributions to colour photography. He has been called “the beginning of modern colour photography” by the late, great curator and photographer John Szarkowski, and its easy to see why when you look at his work in colour. In this rare documentary by Michael Almereyda, we get a glimpse inside the workings of this rare and reclusive artist and what emerges from this moving portrait is a quiet man with a profound gift for taking in the world around and capturing this in colour. A must-see for any budding snapper.

blow-up photography david hemmings 2 blow-up photography david hemmings
Stills from the 1966 classic “Blow Up” (1966) with David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave.

Blow-Up

Though not technically a movie about a real life photographer, this classic from the 60s is probably the greatest movie ever made with a photographer as the main protagonist, so I feel it deserves inclusion. In the heart of swinging sixties London, a fashion photographer (David Hemmings) takes a seemingly innocent shot of a mysterious beauty (Vanessa Redgrave) in a park, only to discover sinister goings-on when he develops the shots later in his studio. The fashion used in the film is enough of a reason to hunt it down. “Blow-Up” is an exquisitely crafted eerie thriller.

anton corbijn photography documentary inside out photography by Anton Corbijn
Top: The photographer Anton Corbijn in “Inside Out” (2012). Bottom: One of Corbijn’s acclaimed portraits of musician Henry Rollins.

Anton Corbijn Inside Out

Through his startling black and white portraits of some of the biggest names in music and film (U2, Nirvana and Client Eastwood for example) photographer, filmmaker and video artist Anton Corbijn is one of this decades most influential artists. In this revelling documentary we are given a glimpse inside his world, as we are presented with a visionary photographer battling with the contrast between his commercial career and fine art ambitions. Corbijn comes across in the film as a man who struggles to deal with his personal demons, including his childhood and loneliness from a very public persona. Engrossing and engaging.

Images © respective photographers and film studios.
Christopher Smail

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Christopher is based in the UK, the former assistant editor of Scene360 magazine. Follow the author @ and view more articles.