Tonight I finally got a chance to catch the Banksy film “Exit Through The Gift Shop“. Not since the Wilco film “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” have I enjoyed a documentary so thoroughly for starting as one interesting topic and then morphing into something completely different and just plain awesome.

Exit Through The Gift Shop seemingly starts out to be about Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman living in LA who runs a thrift shop, and his obsession with filming up-and-coming street artists such as Shepard Fairey and Invader to create his own documentary about them. At one point it is revealed that he’s got boxes and boxes stuffed with raw footage that he never planned to edit. This is where the movie starts to turn into something else – although not sharply. It took the eventual friendship of the famed British street artist Banksy for someone to really call out the Frenchman on his endless journey behind the camera. What happens after that is truly unbelievable. I don’t want to spoil it for those of you like me who have to wait for most movies to come out on Netflix (because the theater is the place I take my kids on the weekends these days) and may not have seen it yet. Go watch it on Netflix – or buy the DVD.


Another fairly recent documentary that I watched was “Jean-Michel Basquiat The Radiant Child“. This movie is not the comedic thrill ride of Exit Through The Gift Shop. This is more of a tragedy – the rise and fall of one of America’s greatest artists who got his start with street art by spray-painting on buildings with his tag “Samo” and quickly growing his desire to create into a multi-million dollar career. As you may know, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Don’t worry, I didn’t just spoil the movie for you, the movie is not so much about his life as it is about being a fly on the wall as you watch film maker Tamra Davis’ footage of Basquiat in action. For those of you not familiar with Basquiat’s work, this movie does a great job of helping you get it. For him, it was not about color, texture, or composition. It was all about his vision and voice. His work seems downright child-like to most because he had little-to-no filter to hold him back. The guy was a master in defining just what art could be (not what it was) at the time and who knows if that was really his intention, but it certainly was his work’s effect.

Robert Donovan Check's His White Balance
1/250th of a sec f/2.8 11mm ISO 200

As photographers, we can learn so much from the other art forms. The same themes run though all of the creative processes, and some of the best and brightest stars of each generation are the ones that redefine what we once classified as art. How can photographers take a medium that for all intents and purposes was created to capture that which already exists and create something new? People are doing it every day. The secret is to take your vision of what you see around you and to capture it as you see it – not with your real eyes, but with your mind’s eyes. By drawing the onlooker’s eye to the points you want take them through in a photograph, you can paint the scene with your composition and exposure. By exploiting the shortcomings of cameras you can turn a realistic scene into one with motion, or extreme contrast, or strange colors. By knowing how to properly use the camera, you can make something rather ordinary look extraordinary. I could go on and on, but hopefully you can see why the camera is much more powerful than just a tool to take snapshots of family events. It is our brush, our piano, our pen and paper.

So to wrap this up, can anybody recommend a good film about Keith Haring? I remember going to see a show of his work when I was a kid and his work has really stuck with me since then.

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