Taco Hidde Bakker

online pharmacy

Photography and Cinema

Photographs do not say more than a thousand words. In fact, they say nothing at all. They are mute, and that’s what makes up their quality and their enigma. A single photograph is unable to show much nor to explain what it shows. To become meaningful and explicit, a photograph needs to be contextualised with a caption or a written or recorded commentary. It will show its shortcomings as a record of any kind unless it is woven into a narrative or will be part of a sequence of images. The film series Contacts, initiated by William Klein, shows this perfectly. In short cine-essays photojournalists and art photographers reveal their working methods by analysing their contact sheets. We get to see the before and after of their generally well-known photographs: the time of the image is stretched beyond that of the single frame.

David Campany, a Reader in Photography at the University of Westminster, has written a short book of almost encyclopediastic scope on the interrelations of photography and cinema. Campany opens his discussion by example of the famous Lumière short The Photographic Congress Arrives in Neuville-sur-Saône (1895), in which for the first time ever still photographers were captured on film. Louis Lumière films the photographers arriving by boat, and one of them takes a photograph of Lumière filming. This is the first – mutually recorded – meeting of cinema and photography. Campany wonders if through this event cinema is paying deference to its alleged parent or is already distancing itself from photography. The reanimation of movement and option of replay (approximately in real time) are key to the cinematic. In contrast, photography’s distinquished quality is its stillness: motionless and silent. An indissoluble discussion could be held on similarities and differences. Luckily Company doesn ‘t find himself trapped in the pitfall of seeking definitions of medium-specifity by splitting hairs about photography and cinema’s ontological differences; his focus is on their “profound interrelation” instead. And there is much of interest to be found at the crossroads of still and motion photography.

Photography and Cinema consists of four thematic essays: on stillness, on photobooks edited in a cinematic mode (paper cinema, as Campany calls it, also known as ‘stream-of-consciousness’ photobooks through Parr and Badger’s The Photobook: A History Vol. 1), the representation of photographers and photographs in (and through) cinema, and a final chapter on the art of the film still, that is, photographs looking like film stills and production stills, not to be confused with the extracted film frame or the freeze frame. Each of the four parts is preceded by a short introduction and several questions regarding their subject matter, followed by a quick succession of examples (the book is somewhat overwhelming because Campany uses so many of them). Chris Marker’s La Jetée, a seminal work creating a unique borderland between cinema and photo-roman, is, despite its importance, only mentioned briefly. Since it touches on so many key themes, it could well have served as focus and as a hook for the construction of a more coherent narrative thread.

After all, Photography and Cinema is a very accessible, jargon-free written, and nicely designed introduction to a nearly inexhaustable reservoir of interesting themes. For advanced readers a critical analysis of stillness and movement is to be found in The Cinematic (2007, edited by Campany) and a collection of essays titled Stillness and Time: Photography and the Moving Image (2006, David Green and Joanna Lowry, eds.). What Company’s work should be mainly praised for is that it bridges towards a larger audience. In any regard, the realm in which moving and still images meet is a vast and fascinating territory that asks for more critical and in-depth study.


David Campany, Photography and Cinema
Reaktion Books, London 2008
160 p.
40 color illustrations. 87 halftone ill.
ISBN: 978 1 86189 351


This book review appeared in print in Camera Austria 107 (2009), p. 75

1 comment
  1. Justin says: September 23, 20116:59 pm

    Nice site Taco!

Submit comment