For all the exciting lives they live, photographers seldom are swashbuckling heroes in films. I have always wondered why that is; after all, on Planet Hollywood, writers, professors, and lawyers — people who are so boring in real life – got thrown into a global conspiracy every week, and even archeologists lead exciting lives.
Mike Kovac, an ex-war photographer indeed led an exciting life in New York City; Kovac, played by Charles Bronson in TV series Man with a Camera, specialized in getting the photographs that others could not.
The closest a photographer had ever come to conspiracy was in the short-lived TV series Nowhere Man. Thomas Veil took a photograph of a private military group dressed as US army soldiers secretly executing four young rebels deep in the jungles of Chile. After the photo, titled “Hidden Agenda” (left) became famous, Veil finds that his life has been erased. His wife, his dog, his mother and his friends don’t recognize him. His keys and ATM cards don’t work and there is no record that he, an award-winning photographer, has ever existed.
Robert Kincaid, also, never existed but that didn’t stop hundreds of people writing to National Geographic demanding more info about the photographer whose story on covered bridges in Iowa graced the cover of the magazine in May 1966. Kincaid was the subject of the book and the movie “The Bridges of Madison County“. The magazine was a mock up; the real edition that month had the Golden Gate Bridge on its cover.
War photographers enjoyed a brief vogue in the 1980s. Photographers in The Killing Fields, Apocalypse Now, Salvador, and Under Fire were partially based upon many real-life photographers who covered those tumultuous years in Cambodia, Vietnam, El Salvador and Nicaragua respectively. (Watchmen parodied this with fictional Alan Guillon). Linda Hunt won an Oscar for playing Billy Kwan, a Chinese-Australian dwarf photographer in The Year of Living Dangerously, setting against the background of a failed coup against President Sukarno of Indonesia in 1965.
But two most exciting films about photographers are unexpectedly centered on fashion photographers. Blowup by Michelangelo Antonioni begins with what is probably the sexiest scene sans nudity in film history, and follows Thomas Hemmings (an amalgam of the swinging London’s top photonames) as he accidentally captures a murder in one of his photos. Or did he?
Thomas’s female counterpart is, no doubt, the titular character in Eyes of Laura Mars. Mars, a glamor fashion photographer, whose images are often criticized for glorifying violence and demeaning women, was thrust into the middle of a police investigation when a series of unsolved murders closely mirror her fashion shoots.
On film, camera often is treated as a priapic instrument and photographers as fatalists and voyeurs. Nowhere is this encapsulated better than in Robert Capa-inspired L.B. Jefferies, the hero(?) of the film considered as the ultimate camera-movie, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. In Midnight Meat Train, Femme Fatale, Closer, and even in that quirky comedy Pecker, this is proven to be true.
Tomorrow, I will look into Photography and Photographers in Novels. Stay tuned in also to my twitter as aalholmes.