Top photography documentaries

In anticipation of our documentary Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, we take a look at documentaries which celebrate photography and the artists behind the lens.

 

Finding Vivian Maier

This extraordinary documentary explores the mysterious life of undiscovered talent Vivian Maier. Seven years ago, a historian named John Maloof in Chicago bought a box of hundreds of undeveloped rolls of film and photo negatives at an auction. Little did he know, he had stumbled upon a collection of street photography which has since been regarded so highly that it bears comparison with the photography of Cartier-Bresson. Her work has now been acquired by galleries all around the world, for documenting urban life twentieth century United States. We are left with many questions unanswered - why did someone with such great talent never attempt to make herself known? 

McCullin

McCullin is a biographical feature-length film about British photojournalist Don McCullin, who is widely considered one the finest photographers of war and disaster. Certainly, one of the most respected photographers in the world. The harsh realism of his war photography was unprecedented in his time where viewers were mostly protected from the brutality of frontlines such as the Vietnam War. This year, he is named Master of Photograph at Photo London in May. Now 80 years old, he cut his teeth in the trade photographing street gangs where he grew up in Finsbury Park, London. The documentary won the BAFTA award for outstanding debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer and BAFTA award for Best Documentary. 

This Dogwoof documentary follows legendary New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham has been obsessively documenting the fashion world of New York City for decades. This film is a poignant portrait of the dedicated artist, telling the story of both the work and character of a photographer driven by his passion. For his Times columns “On the Street” and “Evening Hours” he inventively chronicles fashion trends, high society charity soirees, and the biggest names in fashion. Editor-in-chief of Vogue Anna Wintour says in the film “We all get dressed for Bill”. 

 

Mexican Suitcase

This film follows the arrival of three boxes at the International Centre of Photography in Mexico City in December 2007. Inside, the 4,500 35mm negatives documenting the Spanish Civil War, famously thought to have been lost since 1939. The photographs were taken by Robert Capa, Hungarian photojournalist, considered by many the greatest war photographer in the world. The powerful photographs has massively contributed to the historical documentation of the tragedy of that war. Caps continues to be represented by Magnum.

 

5 broken cameras 

This Oscar-nominated documentary shows life in a Palestinian village, Bil’in in the West Bank. Made over five years, the title of the film refers to the five cameras that were used and subsequently broken in action during that time. He uses his camera to exhibit a unique view of non-violent resistance and to publicise his community’s struggle at the hands of Israeli occupation. His absolute commitment to filming at any cost, which ironically helps him “confront life”. The Guardian describe the film; “injustice, hazard and hope are vividly captured in this defiant one-man chronicle of life in an embattled Palestinian village”.