10 Documentary Films That Every Street Photographer Should Watch

documentaries about street photography
From F11 and Be There (2018). Image from picturethispost.com

Street photography is a captivating art form that captures the essence of everyday life, people, and places in public spaces. It’s a form of photography that requires a keen eye, quick reflexes, and a deep understanding of human behavior. However, to truly master the craft of street photography, one must not only rely on their technical skills but also on their creativity and perspective. One way to gain a deeper understanding of this art form is by watching documentary films that showcase the works of famous street photographers. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at 10 documentaries about street photography that every street photographer should watch. These films offer insights into the lives and works of some of the most influential street photographers of our time, and they’re sure to inspire you to take your street photography to the next level.

Finding Vivian Maier (2013)

Finding Vivian Maier (2013)

This documentary film explores the life and work of Vivian Maier, a nanny who secretly took over 100,000 photographs, many of which were of the streets of Chicago and New York City.

I highly recommend watching the documentary Finding Vivian Maier (2013). The film tells the story of a reclusive nanny who, unbeknownst to those around her, spent her spare time taking incredible photographs on the streets of New York and Chicago.

Watching this documentary as a street photographer, you’ll be inspired by Maier’s unique eye for capturing the mundane moments of daily life and turning them into works of art. Her photographs are a masterclass in composition, light, and shadow, and will leave you with a newfound appreciation for the power of street photography.

Beyond the stunning imagery, the film also explores the ethical questions surrounding the ownership and use of Maier’s work, raising important discussions about the role of the photographer in society.

Everybody Street (2013)

This documentary features interviews with and work from some of the most influential street photographers of the last several decades, including Bruce Davidson, Mary Ellen Mark, and Joel Meyerowitz.

I highly recommend watching the documentary film “Everybody Street” (2013) to gain a deeper understanding of the art and craft of street photography.

Directed by Cheryl Dunn, “Everybody Street” features some of the most renowned street photographers of our time, including Bruce Davidson, Elliott Erwitt, and Mary Ellen Mark, among others. Through interviews and stunning visuals, the film explores the motivations, techniques, and philosophies behind their work.

Watching “Everybody Street” is a must for anyone who wants to improve their street photography skills. Not only will you be inspired by the stories and images of these legendary photographers, but you’ll also gain practical insights into how to capture the essence of everyday life on the street.

The film also highlights the importance of documenting the rapidly changing urban landscape and the people who inhabit it, making it a valuable resource for anyone interested in the social and cultural aspects of street photography.

The Salt of the Earth (2014)

This documentary chronicles the career of Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, who captured images of marginalized communities and conflicts around the world, often while working on the streets.

As a street photographer, I am constantly on the lookout for inspiring stories and individuals who push boundaries. One film that perfectly encapsulates this spirit is “Salt of the Earth” (2014).

Directed by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, this documentary follows the life and work of photographer Sebastião Salgado, who has spent decades capturing the struggles and triumphs of humanity in some of the most remote and challenging locations on the planet.

Through stunning imagery and intimate interviews, “Salt of the Earth” not only showcases Salgado’s impressive body of work but also highlights the power of photography to shed light on important social and environmental issues.

As a street photographer, I was particularly drawn to Salgado’s ability to capture raw and unfiltered moments of humanity, whether it’s a group of workers in a Brazilian gold mine or refugees fleeing war-torn Rwanda. His images serve as a powerful reminder of the resilience and beauty of the human spirit, even in the face of adversity.

In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter (2013)

This documentary profiles the late photographer Saul Leiter, whose work often focused on the streets of New York City.

This documentary provides a fascinating insight into the life and work of the iconic photographer Saul Leiter, who is considered one of the pioneers of color photography in the 20th century.

Through a series of interviews and footage of Leiter at work, the film offers invaluable lessons on the craft of street photography, including the importance of observation, patience, and finding beauty in the everyday. Leiter’s mastery of color and composition is also on full display, inspiring viewers to experiment with their own approach to street photography.

Moreover, the documentary explores Leiter’s unique approach to the medium, emphasizing the importance of intuition and serendipity in the creative process. As a street photographer, I found this message particularly resonant, as it encourages us to be open to new experiences and embrace the unexpected moments that arise in our work.

Bill Cunningham New York (2010)

This documentary follows the life and work of Bill Cunningham, a street photographer and fashion journalist who was known for capturing candid images of people on the streets of New York City.

Throughout the film, we see Cunningham roaming the streets on his bicycle, always on the lookout for interesting characters and fashion trends. His dedication to his craft and his unwavering passion for capturing the beauty of everyday life are truly inspiring.

For street photographers, this film offers valuable insights into the art and practice of capturing the world around us. Cunningham’s ability to find beauty in the mundane and his keen eye for composition serve as excellent examples for aspiring photographers.

Beyond the technical aspects of street photography, “Bill Cunningham New York” also showcases the importance of staying true to oneself and following one’s passions. Cunningham’s humility, kindness, and unwavering dedication to his craft are all qualities that any artist can aspire to emulate.

Daido Moriyama: In Pictures (2018)

This documentary explores the work of Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama, whose gritty, black-and-white street photography captures the essence of Tokyo and other cities.

I highly recommend watching “Daido Moriyama: In Pictures” (2018) for anyone interested in the art of street photography. This documentary offers an intimate look into the life and work of one of the most influential street photographers of our time, Daido Moriyama.

Through stunning visuals and insightful interviews, “Daido Moriyama: In Pictures” captures the essence of Moriyama’s unique style, which is characterized by his use of high contrast black and white imagery, grainy textures, and unconventional angles. Watching this documentary will not only inspire you to experiment with your own approach to street photography but also give you a deeper appreciation for the art form as a whole.

One of the key takeaways from this documentary is Moriyama’s ability to capture the energy and rawness of the streets. His photographs are not only visually striking but also convey a sense of emotion and atmosphere that is palpable to the viewer. By studying Moriyama’s work, you can gain valuable insights into how to create images that truly capture the essence of a place and its people.

Streetwise (1984)

This documentary follows the lives of homeless teenagers in Seattle, many of whom were photographed by Mary Ellen Mark, one of the most influential street photographers of the 20th century.

If you’re a street photographer, watching Streetwise (1984) is a must. This powerful documentary by Martin Bell follows the lives of homeless teenagers living on the streets of Seattle, capturing the gritty reality of their day-to-day existence.

As a street photographer, the film offers a unique perspective on the people and situations you may encounter in your own work. It will remind you of the importance of empathy and human connection in your photographs, and how powerful images can be in telling the stories of those who are often overlooked in our society.

Streetwise is not an easy watch, but it is a necessary one. It will challenge you as a photographer and a human being, and it will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend that you do.

The Last Resort (2018)

This documentary explores the work of British photographers Martin Parr and Daniel Meadows, who documented the seaside resort of New Brighton in the 1970s.

This documentary film captures the vibrant and colorful energy of Miami Beach in the 1970s and 80s, showcasing the unique culture and characters that make up this iconic American destination.

Through stunning photography and insightful interviews with locals, visitors, and photographers, “The Last Resort” offers a window into a bygone era of street photography, where the art form was not yet fully recognized and appreciated. The film highlights the work of photographers Andy Sweet and Gary Monroe, whose images capture the soul of Miami Beach and its people during a time of transformation and upheaval.

For aspiring street photographers, “The Last Resort” offers valuable insights into the craft, including the importance of capturing authenticity and spontaneity, the role of composition and lighting in creating impactful images, and the power of photography to document and preserve history.

Shooting the Mafia (2019)

This documentary profiles the work of Italian photojournalist Letizia Battaglia, whose photographs captured the brutality of the mafia and the impact it had on the streets of Sicily.

If you’re a street photographer looking for inspiration or simply curious about the lives and work of other photographers, then Shooting the Mafia (2019) is a must-watch film. Directed by Kim Longinotto, this documentary provides a fascinating and thought-provoking look into the life and work of Sicilian photographer Letizia Battaglia, who captured the brutal reality of the Mafia’s violent reign in Sicily.

As a street photographer, you’ll find much to admire in Battaglia’s gritty, unflinching images of Sicilian life, which often depict the raw realities of poverty, crime, and corruption. Battaglia’s work is a testament to the power of photography to expose hidden truths and challenge dominant narratives, making it a valuable resource for any street photographer looking to push the boundaries of their own work.

Beyond its artistic and documentary value, Shooting the Mafia also serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of journalism and the role of photographers in holding powerful institutions and individuals accountable for their actions. For street photographers who are passionate about social justice and the power of the visual image to effect change, this film is a must-watch.

F11 and Be There (2019)

This documentary examines the work of Garry Winogrand, one of the most important street photographers of the 20th century, whose images of American life captured the spirit of the 1960s and ’70s.

Directed by Jethro Waters, this film follows the life and work of legendary American photographer Garry Winogrand, who was known for his iconic street photography captured during the 1960s and 70s.

Through the use of interviews with those who knew Winogrand personally, along with footage of his photography and personal life, “F11 and Be There” provides a fascinating insight into the mind of a street photographer who was obsessed with capturing the essence of everyday life.

What makes this film particularly appealing to street photographers is the way it showcases Winogrand’s process and approach to the craft. From his tireless dedication to walking the streets and capturing moments, to his use of the “f11 and be there” philosophy (meaning, set your aperture to f/11, focus on the distance, and be there to capture the moment), viewers are treated to a wealth of knowledge and inspiration.

Not only does “F11 and Be There” offer insight into the work of a master photographer, but it also provides a window into the cultural and societal landscape of the time. The film highlights the rapid social changes taking place in America during the 1960s and 70s, and how Winogrand’s photography captured and reflected these changes.

In conclusion, street photography is a powerful medium that captures the essence of everyday life. Whether you’re interested in its artistic merits or simply enjoy observing the world around you, these 10 documentaries about street photography offer a window into the creative process and the lives of some of the most renowned street photographers of our time. From the classic works of Henri Cartier-Bresson to the contemporary vision of Bruce Gilden, these films showcase the diversity and beauty of street photography, and can serve as a valuable source of inspiration for anyone looking to explore this fascinating genre. So grab some popcorn, sit back, and get ready to be inspired!

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