A couple of weeks ago I was very kindly sent a review copy of the acclaimed documentary "Shooting Robert King" on DVD, but I only got around to watching it a few days ago. The film charts, sporadically, 15 years of the life and photographic career of Robert King, beginning with his arrival in Sarajevo in 1993 with the intention of becoming the youngest recipient of a Pulitzer. In the beginning Robert is naive, idealistic and, we discover, a little damaged. In the end he is cynical (though optimistic), weary and a little damaged; and while he never gets the Pulitzer, King does grow into a trusted and respected photojournalist, a "safe pair of hands", an experienced and hardened professional. The cost to his well-being for this education is mostly paid in years of alcohol and drugs and loneliness but he's come through that and now the payments are less reckless: time in the woods, time with his family, time to not be at war. While the "damaged photojournalist" is an established archetype and King fits it as far as it goes, both he and this film avoid becoming cliched through honesty and a sense of humour. Soon after arriving in Yugoslavia a more experienced photographer tells him his "military style" trousers could get him into trouble at checkpoints, "Yeah I know" says King "but they dry real fast".
Shooting Robert King joins a long list of films about photographers, documentary and fiction and watching it reminded me of examples of both so I thought I would do a quick round-up of some of my favourites in no particular order:
- Salvador: Oliver Stone directs James Woods as a photojournalist covering 1980's El Salvador. Includes cautionary tales about running out in front of fighter planes and when to shoot from the hip to avoid unpleasantness.
- War Photographer: Documentary about James Nachtwey. Reinforces much of the Nachtwey mythology as the quiet, humble, sensitive and driven photographer explains his need to photograph war. Sequences where we look through a small camera attached to Nachtwey's SLR give a mesmerizing insight to his extraordinary image-making.
- Blow-up: Michelangelo Antonioni makes a kind of mood-movie about life in 60's London with an out-of-focus narrative about a body in the park and photographic evidence. Great Herbie Hancock music.
- Public Eye: Joe Pesci does Weegee, OK his character is called Leon "Bernzy" Bernstein but it's Weegee made fiction and only just. Contrast your DSLR and laptop with the Speed Graphic and car-boot darkroom.
- Born into Brothels: A great film, a great project. Children from red-light Calcutta show us their world through their eyes.
- Rear Window: Jimmy Stewart's itchy, immobilized photojournalist see's more than is good for him when he starts to watch his neighbours. Hitchcock let's us indulge our voyeurism but for a price.
I've only scratched the surface so please add your own in comments.