Fictional Photographers

Oliver Lunn

Last week, we compiled a list of some of the greatest photography documentaries available to watch online for free. Inevitably this made us think about cinema and the various screen incarnations of the photographer. Whether riffing on the clichés of the recluse-type (High Art) or the fearless photojournalists in war-torn countries (Under Fire, The Year of Living Dangerously), the majority of movies portray photographers as crazy obsessives.

Celebrating fictional photographers in films, we've picked ten of our favourites. But how about you? Do you have a favourite fictional photographer? Let us know in the comments below. 

1. David Hemmings in Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966) 

(Image via)
Oddly, the greatest film about Swinging London – and one of the greatest British films of all time – was made by an Italian (the great Michelangelo Antonioni). David Hemming's Thomas, a commercial photographer who strives to escape the superficiality of Swinging London and shoot 'creative' street photos, becomes entangled in a sticky web of mystery after unwittingly photographing what he later believes to be a murder in Maryon Park. It's in his dark-room where we see the artful blow-ups that distort reality and prompt him to become a pseudo-detective, always with his trusty camera in hand. 

2. Robin Williams in One Hour Photo (Mark Romanek, 2002)

Robin Williams plays the freaky photo lab clerk who becomes dangerously obsessed with a family through the photos he develops for them. Easily the most sinister photographer on our list, Williams' character will make you think twice about taking those holiday snaps to the one-hour photo lab again. We'll never look at Snappy Snaps employees in the same way again, that's for sure. 

3. Edward Furlong in Pecker (John Waters, 1998)

Pecker is the kind of punk kid street photographer that never leaves home without his camera, never knowing what freaky delights the Baltimore streets will deliver. Snapping his eccentric family, strippers and rats humping in the trash, you can't help but think this is director John Waters (king of kitsch) behind the lens. 

4. Ally Sheedy in High Art (Lisa Cholodenko, 1998)

Loosely based on photographer Nan Goldin, Ally Sheedy plays renowned lesbian photographer Lucy Berliner, artist extraordinaire, who embarks on a relationship with the heterosexual magazine intern Syd. Lucy, unlike Pecker, is a deeply serious photographer, and boy do her photos, stunning as they are, reflect this. Props to real-life photographer Jojo Whilden, whose shots were used in the film.

5. James Stewart in Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)

(Image via)
What is a disabled photographer confined to his apartment with a whopping great zoom lens to do with his life? Spy on his neighbours like a peeping Tom, of course. Like the character in Blow-Up, Jeff (James Stewart) thinks he's stumbled across a murder while messing about with his camera. And maybe he has. If it was mandatory for detectives to carry cameras with gigantic zoom lenses at all times, who knows, maybe the crime rate would drop. Long live the awkwardly large zoom lens.  

6. Julia Roberts in Closer (Mike Nichols, 2004)

(Image via)
Julia Roberts' commercial/creative photographer Anna has just kissed Dan (Jude Law) in her studio. Who turns up next? Dan's girlfriend Alice (Natalie Portman) who asks Anna if she'll take her portrait, knowing that her man has literally just been unfaithful. This incredibly tense scene would be nothing without the camera – a stunning little point-and-shoot Leica – between the two women.  

7. Romain Duris in The Big Picture (Eric Lartigau, 2010)

French hunk Romain Duris holds a Nikon in this Paris-set thriller about a local photographer (Duris) who gets caught up in a complex world of infidelity and deceit when a businessman finds out he's been hooking up with his wife. Let's hope the guy doesn't get hold of all those saucy photos Duris has been taking of his wife, eh. 

8. Guy Pearce in Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)

Possibly the best use of a Polaroid camera in any movie ever, Christopher Nolan's fractured, mind-boggling, neo-noir masterpiece is told in reverse, with a poignant intro that sees a Polaroid picture poetically fade as if reflecting the protagonist's own extreme form of anterograde amnesia. But out of all the questions raised by the film, the main one we want answered is this: where are all those photos now, and how much would we have to pay to get our hands on 'em?

9. Faye Dunaway in The Eyes of Laura Mars (Irvin Kershner, 1978)

The famous, classy outdoor photo-shoot is probably the best thing about this New York-set thriller, mainly because the photographer's pose is way better – and more contrived – than any of the models. Work it, Faye.  

10. The kid from Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang, 2000)

In Edward Yang's quietly epic film about a Taipei family's everyday quandaries, it's the little kid who creatively conveys the quotidian better than anything else in the film. Indeed his minimalist photographs of mosquitos (which, by the way, are impossible to see with the naked eye) make him an unwitting avant-garde photographer par excellence. Keep it up, kid. 

And some notable omissions…

The Bang Bang Club
City of God
Peeping Tom
Bridges of Madison County
The Midnight Meat Train 
The Year of Living Dangerously
Mystery Train (the Japanese dude)

Follow Oliver on Twitter: @OliverLunn

Unconventional by Tradition

Discover how urban creatives helped us design our new packaging.

Read more