Case Number 26582: Small Claims Court

PHOTO: A HISTORY FROM BEHIND THE LENS

Acorn Media // 2009 // 312 Minutes // Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // November 15th, 2013

The Charge

"Break down the elements of photography..."

The Case

Soon, the photograph will be two hundred years old -- or at least the first known one, from 1827, will. It's easy to point and shoot today, but the first time around, it took hours. A person who just walked by in an instant wasn't even a blur.

Photo: A History from Behind the Lens doesn't start with that bit of photography history, instead choosing to open at a photo booth -- the site of French surrealist occupation and preoccupation when it arrived in France in 1928. From there, it takes on photo history in twelve parts, each roughly half-an-hour long:

* "Surrealist Photography" -- See how two shoes can become a ghost, along with vintage films from Salvador Dali and Man Ray.

* "The Primitives of Photography: 1850-1860" -- Making photo paper with albumen and egg whites is demonstrated as painters and travelers take to these new camera thingies.

* "The New German Objectivity" -- A retouched scene from a supermarket, infrared photos of Dusseldorf at night, and some really huge photos are featured.

* "Staged Photography" -- Andy Warhol, a too-small bathroom, masks, and stills for movies you'll never see are featured.

* "Press Usage" -- The first photo essay in a publication, the Great Depression, and some unpublished photos of Pittsburgh highlight a discussion of photos for print.

* "Pictorialism" -- Photos of a falling cat, soft focus, silhouettes, and blue hues are featured.

* "New Vision: Experimental Photography of the 1920s" -- Russian smokestacks and cities are photographed as angles and perspectives roar into focus.

* "Photographing Intimacy" -- An amateur photographer's images of women, humor, and family eventually are celebrated as self-portraits and intense subjects such as AIDS are captured on film.

* "The Inventors" -- Here's how we got from shadow puppets and fruit art to that first photo. Early portraits and panoramas are featured.

* "Found Images" -- A family photo on the moon, an unexplained collection of archival photos, and some scrambled images from cut-up negatives are featured.

* "Conceptual Photography" -- An attempt to capture "thought rays" on film opens a look at ideas like Passaic monuments and a literally definitive portrait of a chair.

* "After the Photo" -- Welcome to the digital age -- unless you're part of the Loma Society International, which wants to preserve film cameras.

Since this is a French documentary television series repurposed as a short course on photography, you'll notice that it's not quite in order. That's not a huge problem, though, since Athena includes a small booklet with timeline and glossary to keep things in order.

The emphasis, as you'll note, is on artistic photography, but if that's your focus, Photo does a good job. The narration is lively and well-illustrated, and you'll get a good overview.

However, there are some things you need to be aware of:

* There's a tendency toward Terry Gilliam-esque illustration to show the way photos are cropped or manipulated.

* There's also an odd detachment, since it's mostly photos, and in the rare demonstrations, you'll see only a hand.

* The lone voice is the narrator (which makes it easy to dub).

* It's not one that you'll want to show your kids; there's artistic nudity throughout the series.

If any of the above sounds like a distraction, you might not like Photo.

Still, Photo: A History from Behind the Lens is entertaining as it informs. If you're interested in photos as art -- whether as a photographer or a gallery viewer -- this one is for you.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2013 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile
Studio: Acorn Media
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)

Running Time: 312 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Booklet

Accomplices
* None