The Link Between Cinema and Still Photography

Through Works of My Favourite Visual Artists

5 min read by Justino Lourenço.
Published on .
Gueorgui Pinkhassov Balcony of a hotel. Sevilla, Andalucia, Spain, 1993. Gueorgui Pinkhassov, Magnum Photos.

The almost-simultaneous births of still photography and cinema.

The technology behind movies is a direct descendent of still photography. One of its early pioneers, Eadweard Muybridge, based his research of the moving image on the photographs (a technology barely forty years old at the time) of galloping horses in the 1870s.

A few short years later, in 1895, the Lumière Brothers projected their first film, “Exiting the Lumière Factory in Lyon,” in Paris. This was the first commercial public film screening. This event shook up numerous photographic circles, from German Expressionists to the French New Wave, giving birth to what we understand today as the cinematic style.

Whereas cinema progresses through time frame by frame, photography is concerned with a specific, unrepeatable moment. Because of that distinction, the mediums used different equipment, skills, and ways of thinking. Nevertheless, the artists who employed those mediums constantly drew inspiration across the aisle.

In the 1930s, Ronal Barthes explored the link between photography and cinema in his essay “The Face of Garbo.” Later, Harry Gruyaert, a celebrated Magnum photographer, stated, “I feel closer to painting and the cinema than I do to journalism.” Likewise, Patrick Zachmann’s photography of the Triads leaned heavily on the Shanghai movies of the 1930s.

Gueorgui Pinkhassov Hotel restaurant. Tokyo, Japan, 1996. Gueorgui Pinkhassov, Magnum Photos.

The cross-influencing art genres.

The relationship between cinema and photography “goes back and forth,” says Gruyaert. “I have talked quite a lot with directors of photography and directors of movies who tell me that they are influenced by some of my pictures.” — Magnum.

In an interview for LensCulture, the Polish cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski talks of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photographic work as his inspiration: “He was able to catch ordinary moments while finding something metaphysical within them.”

Numerous notable filmmakers declared the relevance of still images for moving picture production, such as the Lumiere Brothers, Alfred Hitchcock, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean-Luc Godard, Chris Marker, Mark Lewis, Agnès Varda, Peter Weir, Christopher Nolan, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, and Wong Kar-wai.

Meanwhile, the cinematic style can be found influencing the works of many well-known photographers: Germaine Krull, William Klein, John Baldessari, Jeff Wall, Victor Burgin, Cindy Sherman, Wing Shya, and, more recently, Polina Washington.

And in some cases, filmmakers worked side-by-side with photographers on film production: Josef Koudelka (photographer) and Theodoros Angelopoulos (director) on Ulysses’ Gaze in 1994.

Wong Kar-wai, “Dung Che Sai Duk,” 1994.

On-set photography.

Magnum’s co-founder Robert Capa created the first on-set photography series from behind the scenes of the movie “Notorious” during its production in 1946. He was promptly followed by Eve Arnold, Cornell Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Davidson, Elliot Erwitt, Ernst Haas, Erich Hartmann, Inge Morath, and Dennis Stock.

Wong Kar-wai scene of “In The Mood For Love,” 2000.

The photography of Wong Kar-wai and Wing Shya.

Wong Kar-wai (born in 1958) is a Hong Kong film director, screenwriter, and producer. I would describe his films as having strong, non-linear narratives with particular attention given to music choice, rendered in rich, saturated colours.

Wong Kar-wai’s visual language is similar to Stanley Kubrick’s; some of his best-known films are “As Tears Go By” (1988), “Days of Being Wild” (1990), “In the Mood for Love” (2000), 2046 (2004), “My Blueberry Nights” (2007) and “The Grandmaster” (2013).

Wong Kar-wai scene of “In The Mood For Love,” 2000.

The melancholic use of red in the film “In The Mood for Love,” the yellow as a signal for an oncoming rush of emotions in “Happy Together,” the green as the expression of loneliness in “Chungking Express,” and the blue in “2046,” are Wong Kar-wai’s hallmarks.

Wing Shuya (a returning Hong Kong native) worked closely with Kar-wai on his films as an exclusive set (still) photographer since 1997. Wing helped define the picture’s visual style as they collaborated on “Happy Together,” “Mood for Love,” and “2046.”

Off Kar-wai’s sets, Wing Shuya continued to influence various artists and their work: Karen Mok, Jacky Cheung, and Vanessa Mae. Shuya has also directed “Hot Summer Days” and worked on fashion projects for YOOX and

The neighbouring art forms.

Photography, cinema, drawing, painting — the 2D visual art forms are unmistakably intertwined. Their relationship spreads further into various creative mediums, including modern digital video and photography.

Sometimes, the related art forms are peripheral, such as promotional posters for movies; other times, they influence each other directly. And recently, they are even hard to tell them apart on our mobile devices that play short gifs and “live photos.”


Photography and Cinema — Magnum Photographers.

Photography and Cinema: A Tale of Two Closer-Than-You-Think Siblings, Time — Time.

Wong Kar-Wai e seu cinema da transitoriedade — Formiga elétrica.

Wing Shya Profile — Wing Shya.

Photography and Cinema — David Company, 2008 (ResearchGate).