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10 Great Filmmakers Who Once Were Photographers

03 November 2016 | Features, People Lists | by Pedro Bento

5. Agnès Varda

Agnès-Varda

As a photographer: Dealing with harsh topics in her photographs and art exhibitions, the Belgian was always a controversial name of European culture. She did her academic education at the École des Beaux-Arts studying art history and photography.

Later she worked for the Théâtre National Populaire as a photographer. Her genre is mainly documental and realistic, with a focus on feminist issues, experimental features and social criticism. As a photographer, Agnès Varda developed some unique attributes that would later shape her style as a filmmaker and a distinguish artist.

As a director: Agnès Varda worked through a very important part of the French New Wave film movement. Her style was very influenced by literature, since Varda herself describes her method as “cinécriture” (writing on film).

Pictures like “Jacquot de Nantes”, “Vagabond”, “La Pointe Courte” or “Cléo from 5 to 7” are some of her most important achievements and films where her photographic features are quite prominent (she uses a lot of still images). Agnès Varda is 88 years old, but she’s still active and directing. Her next film will be out in 2017.

 

4. Nuri Bilge Ceylan

nuri-bilge-ceylan

As a photographer: Nuri Bilge Ceylan was bonded with photography since his 15th birthday. Since then, the Turkish artist was involved with photography and used his skills to earn some money. Basically, this connection lasted until Ceylan decided what he really wanted to do with his life.

Just like Manu Chao, he grabbed his camera and went on a journey to discover new places and clear up his mind. This trip was essential to building his style, where static shots, nature and long takes are a trademark and existentialism is an ever-present topic.

As a director: Nuri has no education in cinema and works solely as a self-taught filmmaker. His first films were made on low budgets and using family members as crew and cast. The use of silence was always a feature of his pictures, mimicking the silence of still photography.

After “Climates”, he became respected and used bigger budgets to scale; with more money, he did better films. “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” is an exquisite film and made echoes in European festivals, but his completed glory arrived with “Winter Sleep”, a flawless masterpiece. Today, Nuri Bilge Ceylan remains one of the most interesting and underrated filmmakers worldwide.

 

3. Wim Wenders

best Wim Wenders films

As a photographer: Wim Wenders’ cinematic style is highly impregnated with photography, his other passion. Since the 80’s, Wenders has a project named “Pictures from the Surface of the Earth”, which started in preparation for his picture “Paris, Texas”.

In following years, the German was travelling like a nomad through the world, capturing the richness of nature and conceptual moments in places like Japan, Cuba or Israel. Nowadays, Wim Wenders remains very active in cinema, but also in photography, organizing exhibitions every year since 2010.

As a director: Wim Wenders is the master of road movies and excellent in documentaries too. His flicks are always distinguished and there’s always something subliminal even in the simple films.

Wenders is still one of the few directors who challenge the limits of language and expression, communicating always on a human aspect. His cinema spills across genres and offers somehow a kind of novelty. Sometimes there isn’t anything new, but is a matter of aesthetics, taste or just a storyteller perspective.

 

2. Abbas Kiarostami

best-abbas-kiarostami-films

As a photographer: Kiarostami worked as a photographer during a very short period, quickly developing other interests as a painter, designer and illustrator. Later he worked in advertising, before starting a career in cinema.

However, this slight contact with photography was essential to Kiarostami and he once said that “photography is the mother of Cinema”. His photographic pieces and exhibitions were mostly based on nature, patterns and artificial compositions, but it is in cinema that we can really analyze his talent with photography. Summing up, cinema was the operational platform of using photography.

As a director: After Manoel de Oliveira and Jacques Rivette’s deaths, the disappearance of Kiarostami was a blow to cinema unpredictability and singular ways of directing. Like other genius, Abbas career was made of periods. He started as a realism filmmaker, reminding some critics of a Rossellini style.

Later he embraced themes of fear and anguish, building a strong feeling of tension with little pieces of nothing and minimalistic features. However, his ultimate image was related to maze-like constructions (“Close Up” and “Taste of Cherry”), playing with real and fantasy. On his final efforts, Kiarostami explored new realities – Italy in “Certified Copy” and Japan in “Like Someone in Love” – a period less enthusiastic for critics, but equally interesting.

 

1. Stanley Kubrick

stanley-kubrick

As a photographer: This story was told a lot of times before and the most curious know already about Kubrick’s period as a photographer. He started as freelancer for Look magazine, while also earning money playing chess in Manhattan.

Later Kubrick joined Look as an intern and then as a full-time photographer. Since he was discreet and a man of few words, the way he stood out was embracing the concept of photojournalism, telling stories with pictures.

After dozens of photoshoots featuring Frank Sinatra, Walter Cartier or Eddie Condon, Stanley Kubrick became obsessed with cinema and spent most of his time analyzing the camerawork of Max Ophuls, watching films by Elia Kazan and reading Eisenstein’s essays. The rest was history…

As a director: Stanley is certainly one of the best directors of all time and a name that changed cinema forever. His legacy is immeasurable, his pictures timeless and his mind visionary. No one did in 13 films as much as Kubrick did, showing that is not about quantity, but about quality and ideas. This could sound a little redundant and simple, but it’s always a matter of ideas and creativity.

That’s why Kubrick is maybe the best director of all time. He had more in one scene than lots of directors in trilogies! It’s true his style is often imitated by contemporary directors, but unfortunately this is the thing that no one dares to duplicate: the will and desire to take millions of ideas to one film instead of making five satisfactory, but irrelevant movies.

Author Bio: Pedro Bento is a portuguese samurai, who travels with his wakizashi sword into the infinity of his mind, always forgetting his way home. He doesn’t believe in inspirational moments, but he likes to hide in a secret place, where heavy metal is always blasting and no one can bother him, except his apathetic girlfriend Inês. Yes, he’s a loner.

 

 

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  • Nick Owens

    Interesting topic, great list.

  • Quincy Battieste

    Either the author is ignorant or he blatantly left out Gordon Parks (uh, The Learning Tree and Shaft) outta this list is beyond belief. I should write for this site….blasphemy!

  • Gavin Lawson

    ‘In this list, we focus on good directors who were photographers first and then converted to filmmaking.’

    Wenders was NOT a photographer before he became a filmmaker. In fact he trained as a painter before he took to filmmaking. He only took up photography after he became a filmmaker. Please do your research and do not spread wrong information.