Documentary films about Photography: Reviews to Help You Choose

Let your friends at Confluence Magazine sort through the treasure chest of documentaries about photography and photographers, and offer you a quick take on the film - to help you prioritize your own photo-based binging!

GET THE PICTURE, reviewed by Kelly Haymes

I watched "Get the Picture" About the life of John G Morris, Longtime photo editor for Life, Ladies Home Journal, New York Times and National Geographic. It was a fabulous list of who's who in the war photojournalist world.

[This film covers Morris’] life through WWII, Vietnam, three marriages and now finding love again at the age 94. Even more, they talk about how a photojournalist seeks to show the truth, and that truth is the objective of journalism. That mass awareness counts for something, and journalists die for this! The picture is the last word. He talks about choosing images first and text second. 

Overall the documentary has some interesting points but is lacking in depth. There is discussion about some famous war photographs and many war photographers, giving me a great list to now research. I would have loved to hear more about Morris’s process in choosing an image, and found much of the process lacking in this film.

Where to find this film: Amazon Prime

WHAT REMAINS, reviewed by Katie Jett Walls

"What Remains", a documentary filmed over about five years with photographer Sally Mann, is a fascinating dive into the personal space of a relatively private artist who most definitely works from "the inside out". What I mean by that is that in her work - starting with her well known series of photos of her young children photographed in the early 1990s, and continuing through about 20 years of projects - Sally brought to life images that she conceived within her own mind as she observed life around her. After reading her memoir Hold Still, and now watching this documentary (there is tremendous overlap between the two yet I still recommend reading/watching both) I know that Sally's photographs begin as an alchemy of visual stimulation and interior mulling that come together to form an idea for a photo, that she then shoots until she has captured what she envisioned.

This visual stimulation as a spark explains the documentary feeling of her work, in spite of the patient effort she puts into creating or re-creating the scene she wants to shoot. She sees something in a her children's play, or a gesture, or a scene that lights up an idea or metaphor or belief that she holds, and she invests thought in how she might remake that scene to perfectly express her inner feelings about it. In doing so, Sally creates images that feel fully documentary yet also radiate an impossible perfection that eludes a strictly documentary shooter. Watching her shooting, and listening to her talk about her work, made this process more evident to me.

It was moving to see her family life more intimately, and to observe the effect of her artistic life on her family - how her work shaped her home, marriage, parenting. And how the most intimate details of her life are the greatest inspirations for her work.

I also took away from this documentary how immensely difficult it is to navigate the process of putting your work out into the world. In one segment of the film, a body of work Sally has spent 4 years making is scheduled for a major gallery show in New York and the show is cancelled with, apparently, no warning. Sally is hurt, angry, and questions her relevance. When an opportunity for another exhibit comes her way, she questions the wisdom of showing the work from Immediate Family again because of the controversy it has caused, and the impact on her children of putting that work in the public eye and inviting criticism again.

Ultimately she gets the exhibit, and we see Sally feeling the joy of having her work out in the world and appreciated. It's not at all a "feel good" documentary and I felt after watching it that I don't know if I'd enjoy meeting Sally Mann in person. But I do love that knowing more about how and why she makes the photos she makes gives each and every photo so much MORE to say to me as the viewer, and I do love even her weirdest work.

Where to find this film: Amazon Prime

SEEING DAYLIGHT: THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF DOROTHY BOHM, reviewed by Kelly Haymes

Such a fascinating story of a Jewish girl growing up in Nazi Germany. She moved with her family to Lithuania and the beginning of the war. She was then separated from her parents when she went to England and her parents were forced to work camps. Her father owned a Leica and passed the camera down to her. It became a reminder of him.

Although she wanted to go to med school, after the war this was no longer an option. She obtained a job at a portrait studio after school that she loved and talked about how great she was at it. Dorothy had a great amount of self-confidence. 

She moved from studio work once she realized how much telling a story with images fulfilled her more. She had the feeling that the world would disappear and we needed to record it! 

Her work is fantastic for sure, but more than that I really identified with Dorothy Bohm as a photographer. She wasn’t one to photograph every moment. She had to have the right mood, the right light and the right new stimulant. She often spent time on her own, leaving the parenting duties to her husband, to photograph in European cities. The family would go on their vacation and then everyone but Dorothy would return home. She would stay for a few weeks after to just spend time in her own element. I completely understand her need for solitude with only her camera.

Where to find this film: Amazon Prime