SHORT FILM REVIEW: The Photographer
THE PHOTOGRAPHER-- 5 STARS
Underneath the on-screen actions in director Max Sobol’s dynamic short film The Photographer, the motif of voyeurism is dissected from a presented theory. A male narrator orates an internal monologue opening on the notion “a subject is so much more beautiful when it doesn’t know it's being watched.” Assigning beauty to a moment that is not the observer’s to share in begs this first lesson.
LESSON #1: THE LIMITS OF VOYEURISM-- With our ever-darting eyes, we men and women observe everything and it is impossible not to focus on something that grabs our attention or stirs our mind. When is it candid and harmless? When is it invasive of privacy? What if you see the wrong thing? How long is too long to watch or linger? One man’s innocent observer is another’s intrusive stalker. Which are we watching in The Photographer?
For nine scintillating minutes, this short film weaves an intellectual web to test these limits inside a unique psyche better than films ten times its length. The narrator expounds further on his curiosities and struggles as he follows a certain woman with his lens. The speaker continues to talk about strict rules on observations versus intrusions, almost as if he is selling himself on building the boundaries behind him that he has already potentially crossed.
The man with the camera (Javan Hirst) we follow is clearly a solitary individual. He lives in a very minimalistic and sanitized urban loft (credit to production designer James Soldan) where the most dominant feature is his collage of printed photographs. They all appear to be of the same subject, a woman in his neighborhood (Sophia Di Martino) who doesn’t know her pictures are being taken. Our narrator remarks on how his unwitting subjects find him, the draw of mundane observations, and how he cannot turn that urge off to follow.
LESSON #2: ART IS INTOXICATING-- Not only is the fascination to observe indomitable for the man, so is the art to document it. Each print is a captured moment of the street lenser’s curiosity. The film bounces back and forth from the time the picture was taken to the reflective monologue of the photographer taking stock of his work at home. The photographic creations should be an outlet for our title character, but rather the outlet becomes its own metaphorically muscular creature to feed.
Here is where the atmosphere created by The Photographer demonstrates fine-tuning for intrigue. It all starts with Mark Pluck’s taut and calculated script. This sordid and stimulating soliloquy aches with expression. To watch and hear this short film wrestle with its notions veering from obsession to responsibility across the transient beauty unfolding is remarkably fascinating. Director Max Sobol takes it from there to craft a film around those elegantly sharp elements.
Cinematographer Maeve O’Connell’s dynamite camera work rotates around scenes with smooth tracking, creative shot variety, pristine framing, and spurts of speed to shift points of view. The sound work from designer/mixer Emily Vizard and the recordist team of Richard Thomas, Tom Harbut, and Grant Studart and is playful to embed clever cues of potential suspense in the natural environment. This coy and accomplished tone is amplified to a stunning peak by the ballsy mood of the electronic musical score by Bizarre Rituals. You wouldn’t think nine minutes could squeeze your brain like an anaconda, yet here you are checking your breath and pulse.
For the audience, the sly pull of The Photographer is that we are an extra layer to the voyeurism on display for examination. We’re the next watcher or camera. O’Connell’s lens forces us to watch this unraveling situation with the opportunity to judge what we would do in any position on display, from the photographer to the subject or the watchful periphery. This is an undeniably powerful effect for this short film, one that sneaks up on your senses and mental realizations in an entirely engrossing way.