What Are Your Favorite Photography Related Films?

I just saw War Photographer, the documentary based on James Nachtwey’s important photography, over the weekend. It’s a riveting documentary that takes you behind the lens of one of America’s greatest war photographers. While much of the movie details Nachtwey’s amazing reportage with war, much of it also deals with many other places in the world that he has photographed and reported on. Famine in Africa, poverty in Indonesia, and other important topics are examined from a photographer’s perspective.

A very worthwhile film if you have not seen it yet.

I’ve put my own list of favorite photography films here. I tried to put these movies in order based on how great a film I thought it was.

1. War Photographer. Certainly one of the best documentaries on a photographer that I’ve ever seen. Update: Be sure to check out James Nachtway’s talk at TED here (Thanks, Sam!).

2. American Masters: Andy Warhol. A tremendously well done PBS documentary on the life of Andy Warhol.

3. American Photography, A Century of Images: A terrific documentary examination of the most important moments in American photography. I reviewed this documentary here.

4. The Genius of Photography. Unfortunately this BBC series is not available on Netflix yet, but is an amazing multi episode series. I watched it a while back when it was on the Ovation Network.

5. W. Eugene Smith, Photography Made Difficult: An excellent biopic on one of the most dedicated photographers that the world has ever know.

6. Fur: An imaginary portrait of Diane Arbus. Although not necessarily entirely historically accurate, an interesting examination nonetheless of Diane Arbus and the interesting subjects she photographed. Nicole Kidman plays Diane Arbus.

In addition to the above movies that I’ve seen, I have a bunch of other photography related movies in my current Netflix queue that I hope to watch in the coming weeks:

The Adventure of Photography: 150 Years of the Photographic Image
Through the Lens: The Dream American Tour
National Geographic: Through the Lens
Diana: Life Through a Lens
Masters of Photography: Diane Arbus
Masters of Photography: Andre Kertesz
Ansel Adams: American Experience
Masters of Photography: Edward Steichen
Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol
Naked States
Andy Warhol, The Complete Picture
Alfred Stieglitz: The Eloquent Eye
Born Into Brothels
Chuck Close: A Portrait in Progress
Annie Leibovitz
Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light
The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia
Standard Operating Procedure
Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye

Related post: Luminous Landscape’s Ten Movies Every Photographer Should See.

Do you have other photography related films that you’ve enjoyed? Feel free to drop a note in the comments. If you’d like to add me as a contact on Netflix you can do this here.

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  1. I would add “The Bridges of Madison County”. Even if photography is not the central subject it would be one of my favorite photography related film.
    IMDB link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112579/

  2. Anonymous says:

    I would add Antonioni’s “Blow-Up” to your fine list.

  3. This is a great list of technically sound films on photography. A little while back I posted an article on my top ten movies about photographers as opposed to photography. It’s about movies as opposed to more technically accurate films you listed here. If you’re interested

  4. pixeldose says:

    There was this PBS documentary on Robert Capa that I saw one time … I think this might have been it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/documentaries/storyville/capa.shtml

  5. Mike says:

    Well, Oliver Stone’s early film Salvador would certainly top my list. Like most of Stone’s films, it’s based on a true story. James Woods (long before he went nuts) plays photojournalist Richard Boyle, and the film chronicles his work in El Salvador during the US-sponsored, right-wing repression during the 1980s. It’s dark, scrappy and fracking awesome. Boyle’s a real low-life, no Philip Jones Griffiths, but by the end you almost love him despite his enormous failings.

  6. Kelly Anne says:

    She’s actually a videographer but I still think that “The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl” is a great film. She is a great example of a woman making something of herself in an industry dominated by men, even though she made it in less than … nice … conditions (spoiler alert: she produced Nazi propaganda).

  7. Andy Frazer says:

    I enjoyed “American Images”, which I rented based on your recommendation. I also enjoyed “Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light”, which I saw on PBS a few years ago.

    You might also add “Contacts: Vol 1. the Grand Tradition of Photojournalism”, (AON*) which was recommended by Joe Reifer. I think it’s more appropriate for advanced students of photography and PJ, but definitely worthwhile.

    * AON -> “Available on Netlfix” 🙂

  8. Andy Frazer says:

    I almost forgot, try to watch “Evelyn Cameron: Pictures From a Worthy Life” (http://www.evelyncameron.com/index.php?Action=ShowMedia&Target;=DVD-1).

    Cameron was a British aristocrat who moved to Montana with her husband in the 1890’s. She became bored with frontier life, so she took up photography as a way to pass the time. She quickly mastered the 4″x5″, and ended up producing one of the most incredible historical records of Montana frontier life.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be available on Netflix right now.

  9. Mike says:

    For all her sins, I would not detract from Riefenstahl’s accomplishments and magnificence (or the truth) by calling her a “videographer.” She was a cinematographer and director – who shot film, not video. She was also rather innovative aesthetically and, necessarily, a still photographer.

  10. Martin says:

    I totally agree with you’re number one choice, War Photographer – I find myself going back to it again and again.

    The BBC, Genius of Photography series I’m dying to buy if only I could in the US. I saw the first 2 episodes on YouTube and must see the rest.

    “Fur”, we’ll have to agree to disagree on – Like another commenter said, I’d replace that one with “Blow-Up” – that gets studied at film school for a reason.

    As for your Netflix que – opinions on ones I’ve seen:
    * National Geographic: Through the Lens – is just OK
    * Born into Brothels is fantastic – move that one higher up your list
    * The Annie Leibovitz DVD you link to is not great – the PBS recent interview and profile was much better.
    * Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light is pretty damn good
    * The Contacts DVDs are OK
    * HCB – The Impassioned Eye – take it off your Netflix list and go out and buy it this lunchtime – like War Photog you will go back and back to it

    Missing from the list,
    * William Eggleston In the Real World ( http://www.amazon.com/William-Eggleston-Real-World-J/dp/B000CGX7GG ) is a must see
    * Tierney Gearon: The Mother Project

    Tierney Gearon: The Mother Project ( http://www.amazon.com/Tierney-Gearon-Mother-Project/dp/B000QFCDB8/ref=sr_1_16?ie=UTF8&s;=dvd&qid;=1209490496&sr;=1-16 ) very interesting projects and work
    * Lee Miller: Through the Mirror

    Also, no cost, lots of Charlie Rose interviews with photographers available for free: http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=charlie+rose+photographer&sitesearch;=

    Hope this is useful (obviously it is subjective) – Martin

  11. Martin says:

    Oh, I forgot one, just for laughs, Pecker is a must see and great critique of the art photography world.

  12. Sam says:

    Make sure you see Mr. Nachtwey’s TED talk:


  13. karmagroovy says:

    I highly recommend:
    Eloquent Nude: The Love and Legacy of Edward Weston & Charis Wilson

  14. Glen says:

    For a look at early 1930’s tabloid photography packaged as a snappy James Cagney comedy try “Picture Snatcher”.

  15. sint says:

    thanks for the lots of links. seems like this is more about documentaries then it is about movies. i’ve already seen a few of them. should check out the rest!

    if you like movies about models und photography you should see them:

    gia -> http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0123865/
    the notorious bettie page -> http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0404802/
    eight miles high (das wilde leben .. its a german one but great) ->

    the movies based on almost real stories.

    another link you may interested in:

    you should click on “behind the scenes” this guy is doing some kind of videoblog about his shootings. nice to see.

  16. BBC’s Planet Earth is FANTASTIC. All done with high-res video from both ground and air. Captures action from over a mile away and zooms in close. I can’t say enough about this one. Enjoy, it’s stunning!

  17. Martin says:

    Another one worth mentioning I just Tivo’d from the Sundance channel: Manufactured Landscapes – http://www.mongrelmedia.com/films/ManufacturedLandscapes.html

  18. While it might not be a photography movie per se, ‘City of God’ is really good. It’s the story of a boy who grows up the a slum in Rio de Janeiro in the 60s and attempts to escape the violence by becoming a photographer and in fact becomes a well known photojournalist (who’s name escapes me). It’s really good, you should check it out.

  19. I am very sorry that i not own the original art to know the photography. although i see many films, but better to know the gut. The most deeply
    impressed film is Titanic, awesome film, truly!