• Jennifer Barnick

Four Great Docs on Photography

Mary Ellen Mark

Pictured Above: Photographer Marry Ellen Mark (featured in Everybody Street)

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

I studied painting in art school, and I always had a funny relationship with photography. While I absolutely loved to view photography, I never had any interest in pursuing it. I did take some film classes but loved far more my history of film class over my filmmaking classes. For me, the gear was always an impediment—I loved the immediacy of painting. I still do love photography—and film—and I deeply admire both professional and amateur photographers. I think it takes a particular patience (and genius) to capture the world in a memorable or arresting or beautiful or illuminating way. The below docs or docu-series are all from Amazon Prime. They are all free if you are a Prime member. However, they do offer a free 30 trial, so you can still check them out for free if you do not have Amazon Prime. Documentary is my favorite film genre. I have seen hundreds—possibly thousands of them. I genuinely enjoyed all of these, and I hope you do too.

Everybody Street (2013) (1h 24m) Directed by Cheryl Dunn

Everybody Street is a feature-length documentary about renowned street photographers of New York City. The first note I wrote while watching the film was Wow. Immediately, we are taken into worlds that few of us will experience, and under the expert eye of these amazing photographers, I was stunned by the beauty and horror of many of the images. The format of the doc was very standard: we are introduced to a photographer, and while he or she talks about their lives, we are shown their photos. I found myself completely adoring these brave artists that very often risk their lives to show us, with a great deal of craft and compassion, people who live in a world of violence, drugs, and desperation. The movie had playfulness and beauty too, but the overall tone was dark and deep. This movie will move you. I am still haunted by a photo of a mom with her kids in painful squalor. As far as the doc’s artistic merits go, I would say it is a little uneven and felt a bit lost at times; however, the photography and the photographers are so amazing, it’s well worth watching. Special note: this film features very graphic drug use and gang activity. This is not a movie to see when kiddos are running around.

The Art of Photography—Artist Series (2016)

The Art of Photography—Artist Series was very cool. It is a series of little documentary vignettes of ten to eleven minutes. Each short film is focused on an iconic photographer. The production value is very high, and the photographers are featured with a great deal of reverence. The photography is stunning, but with this series, I was more blown away by the artists themselves. It was awesome to listen to their stories—how they became photographers and how they came to their career-making subject matter and style. Also, it was cool to hear their sage advice and insights on how to build a career in photography. I found myself devouring these little beautiful bites one after another.

Slim Aarons: The High Life (2016) (68 min) Directed by Fritz Mitchell

Slim Aarons: The High Life was pure eye candy. I was nine when I discovered Vogue magazine for the first time. My mom had just returned from a trip to Brazil, and she gave it to me when I asked her about it. It was the enormous September issue. I had never seen the universe of fashion, wealth, travel, and fantasy. I was hooked. I would spend hours and hours pouring over the pages filled with otherworldly people and places. While Slim Aarons was not a fashion photographer, his work would give designers, magazine editors, and anyone wanting to be fabulous the template of high style. He produced an achingly, beautiful fantasy for people to escape and dream. Indeed, Aaron was after the same aspiration—to find a never-never land of “beautiful people doing beautiful things at beautiful places”—his ethos. He began his photography career as a war photographer in World War II. The military asked him if he would like to cover the Korean conflict, but he refused. He said he had enough of the horrors of the world and set out to capture only beauty. The doc is not the greatest as far as docs go—I really wanted it to be better as the subject matter was so wonderful. HOWEVER, the photography of Slim Aaron in this movie is mind-blowing. If you love fashion, architecture, design, and serious fabulousness, this is a movie that will leave you breathless.

Wild Photos Adventures Hosted by Doug Gardener (2015) Directed by Doug Gardener

Wild Photos Adventures is a docu-series on wildlife photography. On Amazon Prime, season 5 is free for Prime members. Each episode is 26 minutes, and there are thirteen episodes available for free. This series differs from the other three in that it is an instructional series on how to take great wildlife photos. Because I never venture beyond what my iPhone will manage, I called in my husband for help in reviewing this show as he is an avid, amateur photographer. I said, “Will you check out this show…just for five minutes or so, and tell me if you think this would be interesting to you?” He ended up watching three episodes back to back. I loved the show—even without being a photographer. I did get some tips to up my iPhone game when wanting to take photos of wildlife. For real photographers, you will get a lot of information regarding how to know what to set your F-stop at and what shutter speed you will need for things like capturing birds in flight. There are also detailed practical tips on how not to freeze to death or how not to get killed by a grizzly. The show gets really technical and includes career advice like what kinds of shots sell the most and how to set them up. I found myself absolutely loving the wildlife and the stunning places he would go to seek out the perfect wildlife shot. My husband loved the show and will most likely watch the rest of the season with a pen and notebook.

Jennifer Barnick

Jennifer Barnick is a painter and writer. She studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She founded Twenty-two Twenty-eight. “One of the most exciting aspects of Twenty-two Twenty-eight is building a channel for artists and writers to share their work with the world.”

Check out Jennifer’s book. You can read the first short story for free on Amazon here.

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