Full Length Photography Documentaries

Documentary Image

There are plenty of photography documentaries available online which span different genres, period in time and subject and I enjoy it when I find relevant, feature length and interesting films, which help to educate as a change from books or blogs.

When I’ve finished watching a documentary I’ve particularly enjoyed, I’ll update this post with a link to the video. (There’s a twitter thread too). As of 28th August there’s 15 videos around 10 hours.

If you know people who aren’t into photography as much you are, and would like to introduce them to your passion, you could send them your favourite from this list as an introduction to the Photograph as Art.

Born from Science and Art, what follows are stories of imagination, of playing with light and technology or changing worlds and societies. Without photographs, would we see the struggles of marginalized people, perceived by the general populace as ugly, outcast or irrelevant?

Without photography, how would we illustrate issues around death, sex, mental health, drugs, sexuality and abuse?

Do you simply enjoy pictures or are you intrigued at, or maybe excited at the reasons behind why people are compelled to create and share photographs? Are you genuinely interested and surprised with other peoples work?

We take photographs, we read about photographs, we read about people taking and reading about photographs and we want to know and understand more about photographs. How very meta.

Take some time out from your reading, delve into these documentaries instead. These videos highlight our interest, demonstrate why we enjoy what we do, explores the craftsmanship of some of the great photographers while showing how diverse our photography community is.

What’s missing? Do you have a favourite? Is it online? – Why should we watch it? – Please let us know!

Ren Hang: The Art of Taboo

Gregory Crewdson’s Photography Capturing a Movie Frame

William Eggleston Documentary: In The Real World

The Many Lives of William Klein (2012)

Joel Meyerowitz 1981 Street Photography

“Reely and Truly” – A Film By Tyrone Lebon

A Day in The Life of Andy Warhol

Robert Mapplethorpe

Vile Bodies Part 1 – Naked

The Wizard of Photography (George Eastman ‘the Man who created Kodak’ documentary). Part 1 below, be sure to watch Part 2 and Part 3


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Previously, I had decided to highlight that photographs cannot be stolen due to the method and creativity which underpins each photographer.

It is stimulating to take inspiration from another and recreate a derivative or new work of art.  What then is the difference between stealing or copying an idea or paying homage to another artist?

We all see the world in different ways and from the outset that was a core theme.

This project, enabled me to realise that just as I sometimes dismiss others photographic work, it’s ok for others to do the same of mine.  In fact, I encourage it.  This is just what I do, and there is a need to do it.  Who cares if it’s accepted or not?  It’s ok to photograph the mundane, the depressing and the state of our world today which for many is of personal routine and the uninteresting.  What then of destroying the artistic ideals of others when attempting to display an emotion.  Not an emotive image, simply shooting a replacement photograph to break the original idea.

I consider it impossible for viewers outside an extremely small collective to fully appreciate these photographs but different conclusions and questions may arise nevertheless.

We all see things in different ways, two different people can view the same object, or have an affinity for a thing, a person, an event or a way of living and process their experience differently, eliciting a difference in perspective.

The difference is in the way in which things are seen, not just visually but the way we see things mentally, and how we respond, both inside and out.  A humorous photograph may elicit a favourable response, an insulting photograph may cause offence and an emotional photograph may change a mood.   Does the photograph produce a fixed frame of mind for every person or do viewers create them for themselves?  The response to the same photograph is different for each person and it’s different if the viewer knows the photographer.  Insight is gained if the photographers’ temperament is known.

At the start of this project I knew that it would be challenging to combine ideas from 10 different artists and explored ways of harmonising the set to ensure that my presence is felt within the new photographs that I was creating.  That it may be too difficult to combine different ideas from different people and found myself exploring ways to harmonise them.  I never settled on an idea, initially it was to invade the photograph with my presence, with shadows, with fingerprints and even with my own blood.

A sweat, blood and tears overlay concept was considered to visually connect the images together, I found that this did not work as I wanted to convey that photography is more than what can be seen externally as photography really isn’t just about what you can see.

“Way’s of Seeing’s” theme was in conflict until I felt something I wanted to photograph.  I’ve not taken many photos lately, I’ve simply not been in the mood.  Life got to me and I began to shut down, piece by piece.  I became emotionally fractured, damaged and I ceased to be myself for a long time.  I was emotionally broken.  It’s what I felt, and who wants to take photographs at a time like that unless it’s a method to release pain and angst?  In these images I wanted to convey the sense of my own inner conflict, the sense that I am broken and this became the over-arching theme for the final photographs.

The more photographs I take and the critical photography theory I read such as Susan Sontag, Jean Baudrillard and other journals, the more I understand how to think about and use photography conceptually.  I photograph best when I’m in pain, and they are my best photographs.  Not unlike Sophie Calle who has said “Grief is inevitably a better subject than joy”, she argues. “When I’m happy I don’t photograph the moment to share with people on the wall of a museum. It doesn’t translate so well.”

It’s interesting, the more you get to know a person’s motivation for creating photographs, the more you see that reflected in their work.  Not just what’s in the frame, but in the way they create photographs and what people think about before even conceiving the photograph.

I’ve suffered with depression for a long time, I’ve tried medication but it doesn’t work well for me.  I can function though, I don’t need for anything, I work and more importantly, I play.  Who knows if it’s a genetic trait or the product of my terrestrial existence?  Depression is one of the driving forces for creating photographs and you may already understand that depression is a thread that runs though many of our great artists, I believe this is what attracts me to them.

It’s why I’m dismissive of some photography when presented with a sunset, or fantastical landscape, or macro of a small insect on a twig.  These are all technically perfect I’m sure but they just don’t make me feel anything.  My camera is an engine for me to express myself, not a tool to configure.  I don’t care about tack sharp images, I don’t obey the ‘rule of thirds’ I enjoy photographs which make me feel something, and I’m attempting to do the same with my own work.

My own work? – I often take down things, re-organise and dismiss my projects as worthless.  Sometimes I go for long periods without creating anything and leave gaps in places where there should be photosets.  People tell me my work is good, (I’m even qualified) yet I shun any praise because I do not believe it, when people tell me I have something to offer I tend to shut it out and stop taking photographs.

Low self-esteem, withdrawal, feelings of loneliness and worthlessness are all symptoms of depression.  Depressed people don’t function like ‘normal’ people and it’s incomprehensible to people who have never suffered it, you just can’t snap out of it – that would be too easy!

Yet, there I find strength, my inner self – the source of my creativity and if I were ever given the option to rid myself of this fucking disease I would pay harshly because my camera requires me to be this way.  It’s comforting to release myself to the camera (any camera) and let it flow on the rare occasions I do.  It’s not a therapy but it does allow me to see myself in a different light and it helps me to understand the world around me, it’s my way of seeing.

Consequently, these photographs have become very personal to me, even though they steal the idea and invade the visual aspect of others peoples photographs.  I couldn’t have created these photographs without first feeling something, and at the time I was broken.  The final photograph combines parts one and two of this project as it’s renamed to “…Broken”, completing the full set of twenty photographs, “Here I Am …Broken”.

I forgive myself for the erratic nature of my creativity, and I’m glad I’ve got this off my chest!

Unicorn: Behind the Scenes

A recent project evoked a strong sense of emotion and in some instances, disdain for the collective work of myself and three others.

That work was Unicorn.  A project to provide students with real work experience of the creative industries.

Designated Art Director, my team consisted of Photographer, Assistant Photographer and Model.  Our brief was to create a two page printed clothing advert for a made up unisex clothing brand called Unicorn.  The requirement for students was to role play together and create not only photographs of our brief, but to gain experience we can use in a professional career.

From the outset, I had wanted to push boundaries and challenge people’s views, using the brief by creating a conceptual piece which highlights unisex clothing while demonstrating that men and women are equal.  Compared to some, my views are unorthodox because I do not subscribe to political correctness, nor the notion of appealing to a common denominator who may not accept,the artwork.  It is simply produced and and what I enjoy about art, is its inherent ability to provoke and have the viewer ask questions to understand why.

Unicorn was constructed and presented in a safe environment, free of real world constraints, free of the advertising standards agency and free of the fear of the work becoming banned or censored in any way.  It was, and is an educational project which I used to push the boundaries of the educational institution, and to learn how far it could be pushed with these constraints.  Peer reviews and professional constructive criticism is somewhat unanimous in that the the theme and photographs created are outstanding from a conceptual and artistic viewpoint, not necessarily from an advertising viewpoint.  (To be perfectly honest, I would wish to work with an advertiser who wanted to push boundaries, to create a set of lasting images which invoked a sense of emotion, to create a discussion on the subject matter and above all else, have fun while doing it)!

The subject of the photographs are a fight between a male and a female, each wearing unisex clothing.  While I certainly don’t condone real violence, domestic violence nor sexism I do condone and support artwork, (in any form, whether that’s sculpture, drawing, literature, film, painting, performance and of course, photography) which doesn’t hesitate to communicate challenging ideas.  Without it, great art simply would not be.

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917, ceramic
Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917, ceramic

Consider Fountain, (left) one of the first examples of artist censorship, this artwork by Duchamp consisting of a porcelain urinal was quickly rejected for exhibition by the Society of Independent Artists in 1917.  The kicker here is that this exhibition claimed to accept all artworks by those who paid the fee; Duchamp paid the fee, but was denied under the terms of the work’s “indecency.”

I also draw your attention to Robert Mapplethorpe’s “The Perfect Moment”.  In the summer of 1989, Mapplethorpe’s traveling solo exhibit brought national attention to the issues of public funding for the arts, as well as questions of censorship and the obscene.  The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., had agreed to be one of the host museums for the tour. Mapplethorpe decided to show his latest series that he explored shortly before his death.  Mapplethorpe’s exhibition included photographs from his X Portfolio, which featured images of urophagia, BDSM and a self-portrait with a bullwhip inserted in his anus.  The hierarchy of the Corcoran and several members of the U.S. Congress were upset when the works were revealed to them, due the homoerotic and sadomasochistic themes of some of the work.  Though much of his work throughout his career had been regularly displayed in publicly funded exhibitions, conservative and religious organisations, such as the American Family Association, seized on this exhibition to vocally oppose government support for what they called “nothing more than the sensational presentation of potentially obscene material.”

In light of the incident the Institute of Contemporary Arts stated:

“The Corcoran’s decision sparked a controversial national debate: Should tax dollars support the arts? Who decides what is “obscene” or “offensive” in public exhibitions? And if art can be considered a form of free speech, is it a violation of the First Amendment to revoke federal funding on grounds of obscenity? To this day, these questions remain very much at issue.”

These are two, of many examples of artworks which are deemed controversial, and I challenge you to consider who deems art to be controversial?  I believe that if no one encouraged “outrageous” art of  this kind there would be no more Arbus, Witkin, Ionesco, Saudek, Serrano, Helnwein, Meisel, Henson etc… Look them up, ask yourself “Why” share the photographs with your friends and ask them what they think!

I applaud the Vice fashion shoot “Last Words” featuring models styled and posed as famous female writers who have killed themselves.  At their times of death.  I don’t consider these photographs or their message tasteless, while I agree that suicide is not a fashion statement, I see an opportunity to highlight depression, self harm and suicide using fashion as a presentation method.  There are many people interested in suicide, who study it who argue for, and against it.  They already have considered what it means to them, unexpectedly what Vice did was to juxta a depressive and thought-provoking controversy with the idea of self-improvement, or jealousy.  (All while you’re window shopping for the next thing for you to acquire into your life)!  Read Jezebel’s differing view on the story here.

Unicorn was also banned, because there were no questions raised after viewing the photographs, because it was only the photographs which were seen, and not the collective team work which brought the concept together.

One of the most important things in art photography is highlighting a theme, especially themes and ideals which people often struggle to talk about openly such as depression, self harm, ruined childhoods and  domestic violence.  While I’m no Damien Hirst, Banksy or Helen Chadwick, they inspire me and Unicorn was created with similar ideals to their artwork, to demonstrate that in this crazy world full of censorship, full of ‘thought crime‘ and political correctness, it’s ok to photograph a man and a woman fighting.  It’s it’s safe to do so for the sake of art and for the sake of furthering discussions between people, who have not considered it.  If we ignore these issues, if we censor work like this, then the real discussion of violence between men and women cannot happen, and I don’t want to live in a world which doesn’t provoke discussion!

I’m very proud of the team I worked with on this project, they are all skilled and the work would not have been as hard-hitting without their dedication and support, (Thank you Zoe & Chris)!  I leave you now with what really happened on the Unicorn shoot, fun!

The Mask Part III: The Predator


In our second week, we were invited by our course tutor to join with another student and collaborate together and produce a sequence of themed images.  Angela Jarvis and I worked together on the theme of creating a presence by using long exposure photography.  With very little perceived time to work with, we quickly discussed the concept of a presence, a phantom following the subject.  If indeed they are two separate entities.

We worked together just outside college to produce the images using both our cameras.

See also: The Mask Part I and The Mask Part II