Cinema-tography: Photographers in the Movies

Juaquin Phoenix in The Master

Been thinking about actors playing photographers in the movies. Juaquin Phoenix's performance as a war weary alcoholic department store photographer in Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master,  is as good a place to start as any. If a picture's worth a thousand words, this promo still for the film sums up why his performance is up for an Academy Award this year. Taking the psychotic who tries his hand as a photographer to a whole new level, two scenes - "mixing chemicals" in the darkroom with a pretty salesgirl, and as a bullying portrait photographer - are, uh,  kind of unforgettable. 

David Hemmings in Blow-Up

Still for me, the touchstone performance is David Hemmings as the swinging London photographer David Bailey in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up, circa 1966. This was the film that drew me towards being a photographer. Scenes photographing in the park, with Vanessa Redgrave that lead to a murder mystery solved in the darkroom were beyond cool to my teenage self. Scenes in the studio with Veruschka are simply self-consciously over the top - not that I haven't seen photographers try to pull that trick off like they invented it.  And the existential nightclub scene with the Yardbirds, was well, for me simply prophetic. Yes, this was the film that was destined to awaken the photographer within me.

The New York City counterpart to David Bailey in London would have been Richard Avedon. In Funny Face, Stanley Donen directs Fred Astaire as a New York City fashion photographer discovering model Audrey Hepburn, based on Donen's friend and legend, Richard Avedon. Here are a couple of nice stills from that film.

This great photograph of James Dean taken by Roy Schatt, is from no film in particular, but some people just have style. 

James Dean with camera, photographed by Roy Schatt

In 1978's The Eyes of Laura Mars, Faye Dunaaway also plays a fashion photographer who helps solve crimes. The tagline for the poster was "You can't always believe what you see". 

This still looks decidedly similar to Jimmy Stewart in Alfred Hitchcok's Rear Window. 

How cool and sinister is it to have a wheelchair bound photographer stuck in his Greenwich Village apartment, witnessing crimes, and trying to save Grace Kelly through his telephoto lens? 

Now from the sublime to the ridiculous.Nicole Kidman played Diane Arbus in the absurdly titled Fur (a result of no cooperation from the Diane Arbus Estate I guess). Here's a still from that film, and a shot I just found of the real Diane Arbus in the East Village in 1969 by Mary Ellen Mark.  Notice the St.Marks Cinema in the background!

Diane Arbus 1969, by Mary Ellen Mark

Way back in the 1933, just after the invention of the hand held "spy" camera, James Cagney played an undercover news photographer in The Picture Snatcher. I love that title!

My favorite implausible photographic impersonation would be Farrah Fawcett playing Life magazine photographer Margaret Bourke-White in the "made for TV" movie. Remember "Made for TV Movies"? 

Farrah Bourke-White

Speaking of television, Charles Bronson played a street photographer in the series Man With A Camera from 1958-1960, just before taking off as a movie star in The Magnificent Seven. 

Though not strictly about a photographer, I have to include the great Michael Powell's 1960 classic, "Peeping Tom".  About a serial killer that films his murders, I couldn't resist posting up the opening scene to round this all up. Happy Valentine's Day!