Photography Documentaries


There was something delightful in watching the British photographer Tom Wood in the BBC series 'What Do Artists Do All Day?', which can be seen in two parts, here and here. It was in his energy, his movements, his constant shooting and the way his eyes rove around the surroundings seemingly devouring it all with his eyes and his lens.

Tom Wood, Three Wise Women, 1989.

Tom Wood has been shooting for over forty years in and around Britain, where his projects would roll on year after year, documenting as he does, the British working class. There's an interesting intimacy that comes out of repeated shooting over extended periods of time, born out of gaining people's trust, which shows in the many pictures he has taken.

This documentary is a pleasurable and inspiring insight into the story of a talented photographer who never gave up doing what he loved, one who continued for over forty years before he was finally given the success he has long since deserved. 


"In October 2010, Simon Norfolk began a series of new photographs in Afghanistan, which takes its cue from the work of nineteenth-century British photographer John Burke. Norfolk's photographs reimagine or respond to Burke's Afghan war scenes in the context of the contemporary conflict. Conceived as a collaborative project with Burke across time, this new body of work is presented alongside Burke's original portfolios."

- accompanying text



"The period from 1961 - 1965 was the defining era of the American civil rights movement. As a participant and observer of this struggle for racial equality, Bruce Davidson chronicled the demonstrations, the protests, the aftermath of the bombings, and the social and political tumult that arose out of the conflict. "Time of Change" is a testament to the everyday lives of the people who fought against accepted social norms of segregation, poverty, and discrimination."





William Eggleston, inspiration to many, and without a doubt the main photographer, along with Stephen Shore, to make colour photography accepted as a serious contender to the B&W photography that had dominated the field for so long. He has given us a long line of sumptuous shots, and has captured a time in America that only colour photography could ever show us. 'In the Real World' follows William closely, intimately, out in America, with his son, and assistant, Winston. His voice has an echo of that other great Southerner, William Burroughs, with a wonderful, drawn out drawl, his sentences spoken slowly, his answers as aloof as he appears to be. But this is compelling viewing, and a rich experience to catch a glimpse of this master at work.


Without the photographer Julius Shulman how known, or how iconic, would the architecture of modernism be in the in the consciousness of the masses? He was a true pioneer of this type of photography, paving the way in a manner the world had not yet seen. He captured the greats, from Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra, Charles Eames, Pierre Koenig, John Lautner and Frank Gehry, in what was to be the perfect marriage between two different disciplines - a building and a photograph.

Julius Shulman gave architects a way to be seen, to have their work showcased and put into magazines from the 1930's onwards. He was a true artist in his own right, a kind of curator, a bridge that lead the eyes of a much larger audience to the works of some of the most exciting architecture of his day.

From this wonderful documentary, about Julius Shulman's life and career, we are given a fascinating insight into this brave new world of design, with stirring photography in a time when history gave us some of the most awe-inspiring buildings modern man has ever conceived.


Vivian Maier, she seemed the ultimate outsider (one of the watermarks of a great artist), moving on the outskirts, aware of all the kinks and queerness of society, rapt with awareness. There is a subtle feel of Cartier-Bresson in her pictures, though they are quintessentially American, as seen through the eyes of one who has lived in Europe in their formative years. I get the feel of her as a kind of zoologist; studying, observing, documenting people in their unnatural environments. She stood on the outside, looking in, with few friends and few people who knew this intensely private person. And yet she had an eye for those brief moments of beauty, of the extraordinary and of humor, which can burst out before one, like a firework, in the most brilliant of ways.

Between these pictures are some of the most interesting self-portraits I have seen - her reflection in a mirror, or her self caught in a shop window, leaving a fleeting imprint on the reality around her, the outline of her being photographed as her real self seems hidden, behind a mask, alone.

Photography seemed her life, her everything, as she left over one hundred thousand negatives behind, most of which are still being processed and scanned. I cannot recommend the photography of Vivian Maier enough, as she left us the chance to gaze into an enthralling world of yesteryear.


A documentary I would love to shed some light on is the profoundly beautiful 'What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann'. It is a tender, insightful film into an incredible photographer with an enthralling, poetic eye. Last year I saw her work at the Photographers Gallery, in London, and was mesmerized. The collection included 'Immediate Family' (1984 – 94), a series, shot over ten years, of her children (which caused controversy amongst conservative Americans). 'Deep South' (1996 – 98), which consisted of a collection of ghost-like, haunting images shot at different battlefields in the American Civil War. The exhibition finished with 'What Remains' (2000-04), a series of decomposing bodies, at a research centre, in Tennesse. But these pictures are not there to shock, that is evident in the huge prints. What instead happens is that we, the audience, is confronted with the reality of death, of what happens to our physical bodies when we pass away, dissolving back into the land in which we lived in.

Throughout her work is the recurrent theme of life and death, where she has an unflinching eye, and a huge amount of courage in focusing her life's work on this.  Uncomfortable to some, though utterly essential, I believe, as it makes me think of what Henry Miller wrote in his book 'The Wisdom of the Heart':

"Life has to be given meaning because of the obvious fact that it has no meaning. Something has to be created, as a healing and goading intention, between life and death, because the conclusion that life points to is death and to that conclusive fact man instinctively and persistently shuts his eyes. The sense of mystery, which is at the bottom of all art, is the amalgam of all the nameless terrors which the cruel reality of death inspires. Death then has to be defeated - or disguised, or transmogrified. But in an attempt to defeat death man has been inevitably obliged to defeat life, for the two are inextricably related. Life moves onto death, and to deny one is to deny the other."



The photographer David Ryle gave me a link to the following, short photography documentary, about Vincent Fournier. He shoots various space stations all over the world and composes these outstanding, strikingly clean compositions that make me smile, leaving the unspoken word of 'wow' pressed upon my lips. The lines in his shots are so sumptuous, and with an almost space-like feel to some of the landscapes he shoots, too. He seems to be in pursuit of anything to do with reaching out to the cosmos; looking here, upon our earth, at objects and stations that gaze up and out of this world and into the outer reaches of space.

You should also watch the short film on his website, also, which has a wonderfully Kubrick-esque feel to its score, making it magnificently eerie, and ever more surreal.



About the documentary 'Somewhere to Disappear': "Laure flammarion and Arnaud Uyttenhove, two young European filmmakers, followed the American photographer Alec Soth all over America during winter 2008, summer 2008 and spring 2009. Riding in the back of the artist's van, they drove more than 20,000 miles together going from one state to another, and from one season to another. The result is a 57 minutes movie about the photographer and his project, which was called 'How to disappear in America', about people who decided to withdraw themselves from society. The road trip offers a series of incredible meetings but it also tells the story of an introspective journey."

I am eagerly awaiting to see this, a new documentary about the phenominal photographer Alec Soth. I have been enthralled by Alec's photography ever since first seeing 'Sleeping by the Mississippi'. He has such a tender, beautiful eye, and captures some of the greatest pictures and portraits I have seen in our times.

Alec Soth-Portrait-Sleeping by the Mississippi
Alec Soth-Portrait-Sleeping by the Mississippi



I sent a link to the following photography documentary on Joel Meyerowitz, as well as the opening text to a few close friends, including one who I shall call 'Z'. Below, is a transcription of the discussion that ensued...


You got to watch this, for its a piece of its time, in New York City. We have the renowned street photographer Joel Meyerowitz, standing on the corners, with Robert Gilberg, as this torrent, this great flood of words comes out of him; all about the street, about the light falling on people's hair, of the small moments that bubble and burst in the space of a thousandth of a second. And in those instances, Joel snaps his small little 35mm colour camera. He's insatiable, non-stop, aware, and completely connected. He's got a voice like Martin Scorsese, a voice like a steam train across its tracks, hurtling along and powered by the passion that's inside of him. This is really an incredible insight into street photography, into the inner mind of a photographer who is utterly connected to his world around him.


I know there is an attempt at reviving street photography at the moment, but to me it just seems so passé. Meyerowitz talks too much sentimental nonsense for me. Garry Winogrand's (photographed at the same time 60s-80s) philosophy of street photography blows Meyerowitz's chatter out of the water. Besides, street photographers always seem to be so wrapped up in themselves. They like to think of themselves as some kind of hero, always talking about risk and endurance. I would argue that he is completely disconnected and only thinking about the world in terms of photographs: he is in his head, not in the street.


Ha ha ha, you're so cynical, you need to connect to your heart and the inner landscape of your emotions!

It takes courage to actually stand in front of a stranger and take pictures of them. I was out taking photographs in Brighton the day before yesterday, with a friend who was down from London, and I bottled out of taking so many shots of weird and wonderful characters, the same of which happened to me on the Jersey Shore, which I cursed myself about afterwards. I would certainly say that Meyerwitz was in the street, as seen in that film, in that he was acutely aware of what was happening outside of his head, of his self. He stood, looking, fiendishly searching for tiny little moments that was, like in all cities, bursting all about him.

Have you any links for Winogrand's words, or have yo useen any interviews about him?


Next you'll be encouraging me to 'search my soul', no doubt!!

And what about the ethical question of taking photographs of people without their consent? Is knowledge of this what requires 'courage' to break an unwritten rule? (would you say someone who behaved unethically was courageous?). For me, the street photography of Meyerowitz misses all the big questions and gets caught up with sparkly sunlight and disparate 'gestures' and that selected 'decisive moments' apparently reveal some truth about life. Thoroughly misguided. Winogrand, on the other hand, had more insight and doesn't make any connection between the photograph and life (other than the index, the imprint of a trace of light from a thing on a light sensitive surface; i.e the image is illusion), and photographed only to see what things looked like in photographs, an exemplary approach that demonstrates a genuine understanding of the medium.

There used to be some good videos of Winogrand 'working the streets' on YouTube, but i haven't checked for a few years


We shall leave the argument of the 'soul', and even searching for one, out of this. Also, I think that perhaps ethics should be left out of this too, leaving it for the weighty situations of our earth; like why did the world stand by whilst thousands of innocent civilians were bombed, raped and massacred by Sri Lankan Government forces over a period of years? Why is it that our governments decide to step into one conflict (Libya) and not another (Syria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Serbia and Palestine, to name but a few).

But this is a subject I do not want to get into right now, especially as it is not even part of this discussion, as it were. Whether ethical or not, whether right or wrong, good or bad, not one person in this documentary, who was captured by the lens of Meyerwitz, confronted him about it, to disagree or to lambast him not be photographed. Often, from what I saw, people appeared to be more complimented than disgruntled about it. The thing that so captivated me about this film was Joel as a man who was truly aware, anchored in the ever present moment. And so any man, woman, poet, artist, or anyone else for that matter, who is truly aware, I have always felt akin to, inspired by and moved. For is it not that one of the aims of life is to be aware, submerged in the very here and now that perpetually plays out before us? For me, it is, and so when I discover people who live and breathe and make this there aim, consciously or unconsciously, I cannot help but feel drawn to them, as I sit or stand in total admiration, in awe of them Being (Being as in 'being' who they are, who they truly are, in that naked, raw instant). Joel spent most of this film searching for those short bursts of interactions around him, in the streets of New York in that exact moment of time, and whether decisive or not, he was seeing more in a second than most see in longer periods of time. His attention was acute, he was riveted by what was playing out before him in the pantheon of the streets. I admire his ability to be able to do that, and certainly it is a thing that takes great courage to do, for so many of us are afraid to interact with total strangers, others like you and I, even if it is to take their picture in a thousandth of a second.

However, I am writing this only seeing a number of Winogrand's work, and some time ago at that, only knowing a fraction of the surface of his work, which leads me onto the situation of having to delve deeper into his photographs and gaze, with an open eye, on his 'imprint of a trace of light from a thing on a light sensitive surface'.



In conversation with Charlotte Cotton, Anne Hardy, Clarisse D'Arcimoles and Aaron Schuman.

Accompanying Text: "One of the great paradigm shifts in contemporary art over the past 20 years has been the movement of photography into the realm of fine art. The critical and commercial success of artists such as Wolfgang Tillmans, Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky, who are represented by contemporary art galleries, and the appointment of photography curators to top public galleries such as Tate Modern and Guggenheim, has ensured that the medium is increasingly regarded as a vital part of contemporary artistic practice. With digital techniques of manipulation becoming more and more advanced, photography stands to continually develop and change as a tool for artists.

Given that the first photograph was produced in 1826, why did it take so long for photography to be accepted by the art world? How reliable is a photograph as evidence of the real world? What makes a documentary photograph different from a 'fine art' photograph? How will the increasing impact of digital manipulation impact upon the medium? What might the future developments in photography be?

These are some of the questions that curator Charlotte Cotton, photographers Anne Hardy and Clarisse D'Arcimoles and Aaron Schuman will discuss as they explore the most pressing questions regarding photography today."