Favorite Photography Documentaries: Part 2

When I recently posted My Two Favorite Photography Documentaries it got a great response from readers, so I thought I'd give you two more.

Finding Vivian Maier

Nominated for an Academy Award, this 2013 documentary reveals the story of a mysterious Chicago nanny who left behind a treasure trove of over 150,000 stunning photos—which she never showed to anyone and sometimes never even developed.

Unfolding like a mystery story, the film slowly reveals the ever-more-surprising facts of the rediscovery of Vivian Maier's photos.  

Director John Maloof bought a box at an estate sale in which he found thousands of black-and-white negatives.  Intrigued, he developed some of them to find strikingly original photos documenting Chicago street life through the eye of a talented but unknown photographer.

The story of how Maloof pieced together the identity of this mysterious photographer and then proceeded to find more boxes of her undeveloped photos makes up the bulk of the documentary.

Through interviews with people who knew her, including former employers and adults who were once children under her care as a nanny, we slowly learn about the eccentric and enigmatic Vivian Maier.

I can't say more without getting into spoilers, so just watch it.  I guarantee you'll be surprised, intrigued, inspired, and perhaps even heartbroken by this story.

Footnote: I recently had the opportunity to visit the Vivian Maier exhibit at the Chicago History Museum, and even already knowing her work, I was again amazed at her skill.  The museum had printed and enlarged entire rolls of her her film, so that you could see every photo, unedited, in the exact sequence that she shot them.  One after another, they are perfectly composed little masterpieces.  I discard 90% of the photos I take.  Maier had the ability to quickly shoot street life on a manual camera and get photos that were 90% keepers.  I stand in awe.

Available on Netflix and from Amazon 

National Geographic: The Photographers


You can watch this one on YouTube:

This 1998 documentary takes us back to the glory days of photography.

Back before everyone had a camera in his or her pocket.

Back before digital SLRs with instant LCD feedback changed the game.

Back to the days of film, when getting a great photo required real mastery.

Back then, being a National Geographic photographer was the coolest thing many of us could imagine.

It was almost like being a rock star.

In this documentary, you meet a handful of the most famous Nat Geo photographers at the top of their game, and you get to follow them in the field.

You go into the African jungle with Nick Nichols, who tolerates almost inconceivable discomforts and insect horrors, just to bring us photos of elusive animals in their natural habitats.

You go underwater with David Doubilet, who carries multiple waterproof cameras (you can't change film underwater) and a ridiculous flash rig just to be able to get the perfect light on his aquatic subjects.

You'll meet Jodi Cobb,  Steve McCurry, Jim Stanfield, and many others, and you'll learn the stories behind some of their most famous photos.

Of course, the content is dated and it's all presented in that cheesy, self-congratulatory Nat Geo style.  But for those of us of a certain age who remember when being a National Geographic photographer looked like our dream job, this is both an inspiring look at the life of passionate photographers, and a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Have a favorite photography documentary?  Share it with us in the comments below.


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