Five photographers share the films that influenced them most.
Forest of Bliss
Of all the anthropological films I watched in college, Robert Gardner’s 1986 Forest of Bliss is the one that broke the mold for me, turning science into art. Not only is it pure cinema vérité, it remains one of the most beautifully shot documentaries I have ever seen. Gardner uses the cremation rituals of Benares, India as a lens through which to view life and death in the context of Hindu culture. When I showed it to my mother as an example of genius creative achievement, she worried that I would never make a living creating documentary films devoid of dialogue or narration.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
But also Clueless, Kids, Beverly Hills 90210 and other films in the teen movie genre. I have long been inspired by the mythology of American high school in pop culture, often represented in film and television as archetypical teenage characters and cliques. While Beverly Hills 90210 may not be great art, many of its characters and storylines rang true with my own experience growing up in Los Angeles. Seeing the way the characters resonated with audiences around the world inspired me to look towards my own culture as subject matter rather than the far-flung, exotic societies and conflicts to which my photojournalist colleagues flocked. [Buy]
Sunless (Sans Soleil )
Chris Marker’s 1983 Sunless is an experimental essay that combines documentary footage with a (fictional) diaristic narrator, enhancing vérité footage from Japan, Africa, Europe and the U.S. with philosophical and anthropological observations. I saw this film in college in the mid-80s, and it was a revelation about what documentary could be and how it could function both as social commentary and personal statement. [Buy]
Sam Mendes’ 1999 searing social commentary about suburban life and American values complemented by terrific acting and beautiful cinematography. Love the point of view—ironic and humorous with highly stylized storytelling. [Buy]
The Buzz Club, Mysteryworld
Rineke Dijkstra is a photographer I had long admired, so it was very inspiring and thought-provoking to see her foray into video. In an Avedon-esque portrait style, Dijkstra filmed real teenagers in a disco against a white backdrop. Fascinating, intoxicating, and occasionally prosaic, the minimalist style and lack of contextual information about the subjects forces the viewer to closely examine the cultural and age-specific body language, fashion, gestures and idiosyncrasies of teenagers in a vulnerable and universally relatable stage of life.