Top 10 Photography Film Documentaries
There’s nothing like an inspiring photography documentary to portray the legends behind the lens and throw light on the unique passion that drives their work. Here’s a roundup of some of the best documentary films about photography that you can watch online. For even more captivating documentaries, see our list of the top 10 photography related movies.
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The Salt of the Earth (2014)
The Salt of the Earth, a story about The Genesis project of the Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Salgado, is a must-watch for all photography aficionados.
This powerful documentary was co-directed by Wim Wenders and the photographer’s son, Juliano Ribiero Salgado. The pair follows Salgado on his search for pristine natural environments around the world. The result of this compelling journey is a collection of exquisite monochromatic photographs portraying landscapes, wildlife, and indigenous tribes.
Chasing Ice (2012)
This insightful documentary by the producer of Chasing Coral, Jeff Orlowski, offers a glimpse into the work of National Geographic photographer James Balog who goes to extremes to prove the existence of global warming. His time-lapse cameras mounted onto Arctic cliffs manage to capture the moment when an iceberg the size of lower Manhattan breaks from the Greenland ice sheet and tumbles into the ocean.
Everybody Street (2013)
In her inspirational masterpiece, filmmaker Cheryl Dunn pays tribute to 13 iconic New York City street photographers including Bruce Davidson, Elliott Erwitt, Jill Freedman, Bruce Gilden, and Joel Meyerowitz. Shot on both black and white 16 mm film and color HD, the documentary provides a unique insight into the life and perseverance of the artists wandering the streets of New York in search of their next shot.
Annie Leibowitz: A Life Through a Lens (2008)
Annie Leibowitz: A Life Through a Lens was produced by Barbara Leibovitz, the sister of the celebrated fashion and music portrait photographer. This is a captivating documentary that gives unprecedented access to the artistic process of one of the greatest photographers of our time.
On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace (2017)
Brazilian director Heitor Dhalia offers an unforgettable portrait of celebrity photographer Michael O’Neill.
Dhalia accompanies O’Neill to India and Tibet where the photographer strives to capture the essence of yoga and portray its greatest practitioners around the world. An examination of the beauty of spirit and form, this fascinating documentary film is more than anything a candid representation of humanity.
The Many Lives of William Klein (2012)
A BBC-produced documentary, The Many Lives of William Klein profiles the pioneer of street photography and one of the world’s most influential photographers.
The film follows the iconic artist as he prepares for a retrospective of his work at Tate Modern. It includes personal interviews and an exclusive visit of his studio.
War Photographer (2001)
In War Photographer, Swiss filmmaker Christian Frei joins the famous war photographer Nachtwey for two years on his journey to document conflicts in Kosovo, the West Bank, and Indonesia.
A special microcam attached to Nachtwey’s SLR camera makes it possible, for the first time in the history of photography documentaries, to get an intimate view of a photojournalist’s work process.
Finding Vivian Maier (2013)
When in 2007 John Maloof bought a collection of 30,000 photographs and negatives from an abandoned storage locker, he set out to find the identity of the mysterious photographer. He discovered that the images were taken by Vivian Maier, who worked as a nanny in Chicago for more than four decades and never shared her work with others. Maier was posthumously recognized as one of the most important American street photographers. This fascinating documentary presents some of Maier’s unseen images, exclusive interviews, and expert assessments of her photographs.
He discovered that the images were taken by Vivian Maier, who worked as a nanny in Chicago for more than four decades and never shared her work with others. Maier was posthumously recognized as one of the most important American street photographers. This fascinating documentary presents some of Maier’s unseen images, exclusive interviews, and expert assessments of her photographs.
Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People (2014)
Thomas Allen Harris’ award-winning Through a Lens Darkly is the first documentary that focuses on the role of photography in shaping the identity of African Americans from slavery to the present.
It unveils forgotten, forbidden, and lost images ranging from the amateur family album photos to the work of the groundbreaking African American photographers.
Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman (2008)
Visual Acoustics, the acclaimed documentary film by Eric Bricker narrated by Dustin Hoffman, celebrates the life and work of one of the leading architectural photographers of the 20th century.
Julius Shulman was known for capturing the work of nearly every modern architect since the 1930s, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra, John Lautner, and Frank Gehry. This documentary is not only a testament to the evolution of modern architecture but also a colorful portrait of the person who immortalized it through his remarkable photography.
Irma is a freelance travel writer and globetrotter with a passion for cities, architecture, and art. You can find her most days searching for that perfect cup of coffee and planning new adventures.