Camera Buffs: How Two New Films See Photographers Richard Billingham and Bill Cunningham Through Their Own Lens

IndieWire | 11/10/2018 | Staff
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The following essay was produced as part of the 2018 NYFF Critics Academy, a workshop for aspiring film critics that took place during the 56th edition of the New York Film Festival.

Photographers Richard Billingham and Bill Cunningham, across decades and continents, made themselves invisible as they captured people with their cameras. They constantly played with distances — and ideas of distancing — and that allowed their photos to develop into historical documents of their times, capable of collapsing the personal and the social, the indoor and outdoor, and — most startlingly — the private and the public.

Artists - Journey - Self-exploration - Self-determination - Process

Both artists set out on a journey of self-exploration and self-determination that is determined through a long process of photographing others, and both artists created biographies for thousands of nameless people by focusing on the intersections of history, politics, and geography. And now, both artists have inspired films that turn the camera around and do the same for them. Billingham even directed one, himself.

There’s a Richard Billingham photograph, taken in the mid-nineties, in which his mother, Liz, shakes a fist at his father, Ray. The wall behind Liz is covered in patterned wallpaper, and the cabinet nearby is cluttered with tchotchkes: little statues, porcelain figures, photo frames. Ray, perhaps scared or fed up or both, looks away. It is not an image that one would flaunt as a family photograph. And yet Billingham not only flaunted them, he also constructed a whole series of photographs, shot on the cheapest available film, in which he captured his working class parents over a number of years.

Photographer - Parents - Suburbs - Birmingham—infamously - Black

The photographer’s parents were living in the suburbs of Birmingham—infamously called “Black Country” because of the industrial fumes — and surviving poverty. And while he represented them with affection and sympathy, he also highlighted the appalling ways in which the couple...
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