Passionate Documentary Photography: Exploring the History and Impact of Photographers

Photography Documentaries

If you have a passion for photography, you’ll love these documentary movies. They’re great for learning about the history of the medium and how some photographers used it to make a difference in the world.

Unlike photojournalism, which documents current events, and street photography that immortalizes interesting instant of everyday urban happenings, documentary projects often span weeks, months, or even years.

Robert Adams

Robert Adams’s photographs of degraded Western landscapes document both our destructiveness and our capacity for hope. He finds poetry even in the most degraded landscape, as well as an alchemy of light that can transform a barren, trash-strewn field into something transcendent.

While studying English literature for his PhD at the University of Redlands, Adams bought a camera and learned photography. His work became a force in the evolution of modern photography.

A seminal figure in the movement of New Topographics, his photographic reckonings have helped us come to terms with our human encroachment on natural beauty. This book celebrates his life’s work with a comprehensive selection of photographs.

Robert Mapplethorpe

When it comes to documentaries about artists, directors tend to steer clear of the personal details of their sexual lives. But this new HBO film about the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe isn’t afraid to go there.

The directors, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (Party Monster), offer a revealing portrait of an artist whose work and life triggered a culture war that’s still raging to this day.

They show how Mapplethorpe pushed the boundaries of art and photography by exploring new genres, from a lurid’sex dyke’ series to the lush studio portraits of celebrities like singer Patti Smith. They also include a few archival interviews that make for a more intimate path through his career and private life.

Richard Avedon

While he may have only been on this planet for half a century, Avedon left an indelible mark on fashion and portrait photography. His artistic vision elevated these fields into the art realm, and he was an inspiration to many photographers who came after him.

Joe Pesci plays a cynical reporter with an instinct for finding and capturing sensational shots in this documentary about the famous paparazzi photographer. The film also delves into the blatant ordinariness of what Eggleston shoots with his clunky camera.

This film follows photographer Nachtwey as he goes from war to war, capturing images that highlight military conflicts and public tragedies. Ethics, professionalism, and fearlessness are all explored in this gripping documentary.

Brian Lowe

Brian Lowe was an award winning photographer known for his magazine editorials and advertising campaigns. He framed his subjects against minimal backgrounds or sky with graceful graphic lines and deep shadows – the result was a timeless, classic image.

This documentary on the elusive American artist explores her intriguing perspective on the world around her. She would often take photos without showing them to anyone – giving her work a posthumous reputation.

This documentary on famed paparazzi Ron Galella explores his unique approach to capturing celebrity and newsmakers. He’d hide behind trees, sneak into restaurants – anything to get that perfect shot. His methods were controversial, but his results were iconic.


Lomography is a movement that promotes casual, snapshot-style photography using cheap plastic cameras. This style of photography encourages experimentation and “happy accidents” to create unique, beautiful images.

Many photographers can run out of creative juices if they’re overly focused on the quality of their equipment and photos. Fortunately, Lomography can help photographers regain their creativity by focusing on fun instead of perfection.

This documentary covers the life of American photographer William Eggleston, who captured the banal oddities of everyday life. It also explores his interesting personal discipline of taking only one photograph of a subject, which led to an incredible collection of work.

Luciano Antonioni

The first of a series of opulent color films that reunited Antonioni with actress Monica Vitti, this reworking of Jean Cocteau’s play marks a formal departure from Neorealism. Antonioni unhinges narrative to devise a cinematic form that emphasizes human behavior and the environmental factors that contribute to it.

An early glimpse of the filmmaking style that would make Antonioni world-famous, this tale of fraught friendship and doomed love contains hints of the wandering camera movements and slow-motion visual poetry to come. Today, directors such as Gus Van Sant, Kelly Reichardt, Carlos Reygadas, and Andrey Zvyagintsev use a vocabulary of extended duration and wandering camera motion that owes much to Antonioni.

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