THE PHOTOGRAPHER IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA

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by Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel

grade: 7.5

Photography and cinema of reality in its purest sense are the pillars of The Photographer in front of the Camera. And once again, the unique directorial approach of Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, made up of moments of observation and discreet following, succeeded in making us feel part of a world we knew only vaguely.

History in pictures

The two directors Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel immediately stood out for their unique approach to reality that gives us almost the impression of watching a feature film. This was the case in films like La Pivellina (2009) – thanks to which the two gained international notoriety – Mister Universo (2016) or the more recent Notes from the Underworld, which premiered at the Berlinale 2020 and was subsequently included in the selection of the Viennale 2020, and it is also the case for The Photographer in front of the Camera, made in 2014 and entirely focused on the figure of the famous photographer Erich Lessing, who passed away in 2018.

In The Photographer in front of the Camera, then, the two directors’ camera follows the daily life of Lessing, who is still active in his profession even in his nineties. And so, during an exciting journey from Vienna – where the artist is intent on setting up his photographic gallery – to Paris – at the legendary headquarters of the Magnum photographic agency – we have the opportunity to listen to interviews, jokes, intimate family conversations and become part of a world that, in its own way, represents an important piece within the history of photography.

Photography and cinema of reality in its purest sense thus become the pillars of The Photographer in front of the Camera. And the two directors, for their part, try, in this particular context, to be as neutral as possible, almost invisible in front of the camera, except for the moment when we see Lessing, amused, creating a kind of jigsaw puzzle on his iPad with photos of them intent on their work.

Yes, because if, in fact, Erich Lessing never forgot the importance of the great authors of the past, on the other hand, he was always pleasantly curious about new technologies, digital and all the new tools that, in their own way, capture reality. A reality that most people photograph, but few really manage to tell. And this has always been Lessing’s main goal: to make his photos speak, to make them capture the essence of a certain moment, to make the viewer feel part of the picture in front of his eyes.

And confronted with a figure of such significance, we immediately understand the choices made by the directors: a pure, sincere and reverent observation of a great artist who, simply in his everyday life, manages to carry on his shoulders an entire film of about an hour and a quarter. An hour and a quarter that slips down like a glass of cool water, capable of giving us magnetic moments, enriched also with a welcome touch of irony and lightness, as when we see an amused Hanno Pöschl walking away satisfied, jealously holding under his arm an enormous photograph of Erich Lessing portraying him.

This, then, is what Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel gave us in their precious little The Photographer in front of the Camera. Once again, their unique directorial approach made up of moments of observation and discreet following has succeeded in making us feel part of a world we knew only vaguely. And if, according to Lessing’s own words, ‘photographs must be able to tell something’, the same can be said of this interesting The Photographer in front of the Camera, as of Covi and Frimmel’s entire filmography: reality in its purest sense is able to become cinema. But to make this happen, one must have the right gaze. And again, quoting, this time, the great Ernst Lubitsch: ‘There are a thousand ways to point a camera, but really only one’.

Original title: Der Fotograf von der Kamera
Directed by: Tizza Covi, Rainer Frimmel
Country/year: Austria / 2014
Running time: 75’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Tizza Covi, Rainer Frimmel
Cinematography: Rainer Frimmel
Produced by: Mischief Films, Vento Film

Info: the page of The Photographer in front of the Camera on iMDb; the page of The Photographer in front of the Camera on the website of the Austrian Film Commission