Danny Lyon has continued to produce autobiographical material alongside his social documentary work. While I’m a big fan of his photographs, I’ve never seen his films. On his website, BleakBeauty.com, you can see a clip of Born to Film (1982). The film intersperses footage of his young son with film shot in the 1930’s by Lyon’s father, a doctor who immigrated from Germany.
Joel Meyerowitz describes his outstanding documentary film, Pop:
In November 1995, my son Sasha and I flew to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to pick up my father, Hy, who has Alzheimer’s disease. We took him on a slow, back road journey up to New York City, where he was born. Although I could articulate the purpose of the trip before it began, the depth of the experience and its real meaning became clearer to me as the trip unfolded. This was to be an odyssey. Three men, three generations of the Meyerowitz family–my father, a retired salesman, myself, a photographer and filmmaker and my son, also a filmmaker, each of us exactly 30 years apart–would travel together from Florida to New York City–to the Bronx actually–where my father had lived most of his life and where I was born. Our quest was to see if along the way the adventures and experiences we would have could stimulate his now rapidly failing memory.
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In college I was drawn to experimental filmmaking. I studied Stan Brakhage, Ernie Gehr, Michael Snow and Hollis Frampton. I made my own videos and super-8 films. But after awhile I saw this work as ponderous and pretentious. I rejected experimental filmmaking. I came to believe that the power of film was in conventional storytelling.
After I settled on photography as my medium I developed a notion that photographers make poor filmmakers. In retrospect I don’t think I have much evidence for this claim. I’ve seen very few films by photographers. I suspect photographers are no better or worse at filmmaking than anyone else.
I’ve been trying to come up with a list of photographers that have made notable films or videos. I’d like to get help adding to this list. I’d also like to read opinions on these photographers as filmmakers:
- Larry Clark: Kids, Another Day in Paradise, Bully, Ken Park, Wassup Rockers
- William Eggleston: Stranded in Canton
- Robert Frank: Pull My Daisy, Candy Mountain, Cocksucker Blues, Keep Busy, Conversations in Vermont, Home Improvements, Life Dances On, Sanyu
- David Lachappelle: Rize
- Lauren Greenfield: Thin
- Nan Goldin: Chasing a Ghost, Sisters, Saints and Sibyls
- William Klein: broadway by light, who are you polly maggoo?, mr. freedom, muhammad ali the greatest, the little richard story, the messiah
- Danny Lyon: Two Fathers, Five Days, Murderers, Soc. Sci 127, Little Boy, El Otro Lado, Dear Mark, Llanito, Los Ninos Abandonados, El Mojado, Willie, Born to Film, Media Man
- László Moholy-Nagy: Berliner Stilleben, Ein Lightspiel: Schwarz-Weiss-Grau
- Mary Ellen Mark: Streetwise
- Joel Meyerowitz: Pop
- Gordon Parks: Flavio, Diary of a Harlem Family, The World of Piri Thomas, Learning Tree, Shaft, Shaft’s Big Score, The Super Cops, Leadbelly, Solomon Northup’s Odyssey
- Man Ray: Man Ray: Les Mystères du château de Dé, Emak Bakia, Le Retour à la raison, L’Étoile de mer
- Paul Strand: Manhatta, Redes, Native Land