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Cinema and Fineart Photography


Recently I started a new fineart photography project on emotions.

So I’ve been thinking about this over the past few days: Do Cinema and fineart photography have anything in common?

Can stories of human potential be rendered in the still frame as much as it can in the moving one?

Can a filmmaker also be a photographer?


The answer to these question, I believe is, …hell yes!!

Win Wenders has published photography books for years. And his film work stands alone as evidence of the former question.

Glendyn Ivin an Australian director, and a source of personal inspiration, has published several photography books from a TV series he directed here in Australia called Puberty Blues.

So yes…there are great filmmakers who are also great photographers but the question remains: is there any cross-over between the world of cinema and photography beyond the fact they are both visual art forms? And if so, how?

I believe the answer to this question is both yes and no. Or rather the answer lies somewhere between the two, and exactly where that is will depend in part of the artist, not the format.

This is true because while filmmaking and photography are visual in form they function differently in how a story is not only rendered but also received. That is to say, both photography and cinema can tell stories and they do so differently.

Here is how:

Moving images are dependent on a relation between other sets of images for context and meaning, and a viewer will relate to these images as such. If no further information is supplied confusion will ensue but a filmmaker can also use this device as a method to deliver a big piece of information later on. Either way, we are always aware that if we missed something in a movie, more information may be coming to fill in the missing pieces.

Photographic images, however, are less dependent on further information outside of the frame itself. And importantly the viewer is cognizant of this fact during the viewing experience. Confusion may still occur but someone looking at a photo is aware of the fact that no more information is coming—even if unconsciously so.

Understanding this is all the information supplied provides the viewer with the task of filling in the informational gaps themselves—even if unconsciously so.

However, it is not as if photographic images must tell a complete story or have all the information in that single frame to tell the story. No.

Sometimes it is the case, for instance the picture below, that information is deliberately left from the frame because the artist (in this case Todd Hido) wants the viewer to fill in the missing pieces from their own experience rather than searching for some obfuscated meaning.

One might say that a picture must have enough information to tell a story but not, the story. And I think for this reason a directors creative motivation is as important as her/his aesthetic when it comes to the telling of story, because it is these motivational forces driving the creation of art in the first place, and this can lead us towards any intended outcome of the artist.

So if cinema is storytelling with multiple pictures positioned in a certain and very deliberate sequence, and photography is storytelling with an image that may or may not be related to other images (if said image is part of a larger body of work) and both have utility with regards to shifting an audiences perspective cognitively, is there really a difference between the two?

I believe there is for photography affords a greater space to linger over an image — to muse; to ponder.

In my view this is the power of photography — at least from a fineart storytelling point of view. That is not to say, this cannot happen in movies. It can. It does. But film delivers information over a longer time-frame and therefore is engaged by an audience differently. Plus, if it is true that meaning is relational in film, then the images must be less nebulous than they are in photography.

Perhaps we could draw a rather loose analogue with prose and poetry here. Film is to prose what photography is to poetry? That does not seem too long a bow to draw! Right?!?

Either way, photography gives a viewer the space to fill in those gaps from their own experience—to wonder and wander over and about a piece. Couple this with a degree of self-awareness and we learn something about ourselves from the experience of viewing the photograph. Not just from the photography itself but from the experience of experiencing the picture. It is as if the experience of engaging with the image shifts consciousness and it is this that takes beyond mere entertainment, just like poetry. At first we may experience the mere beauty of the words but as we wonder we begin to see meaning beyond the words. The meaning is found through the act of trying to find meaning.

Cinema on the other hand leads a viewer along a path of understanding. Like a philosophical argument it’s outcome to predetermined by the its author. And the author leads as carefully from pone point to another along a path of understanding to said outcome. And it is the relational nature of film itself that gives cinema this power.


As I mentioned above, to some degree, I see my film and photography work a little like writing a novel or a poem. Both are special to me. I want to create both. One is a lot more work than the other but in a very different way. Both allow me to tell stories of human potential but do so in a very different way.

I love about both but for very different reasons.