Reely and Truly: a new film on photography by Tyrone Lebon

Filmmaker and photographer Tyrone Lebon has created a new documentary that offers a loose portrait of over 20 photographers at work, and muses on the nature of photography today…

Filmmaker and photographer Tyrone Lebon has created a new documentary that offers a loose portrait of over 20 photographers at work, and muses on the nature of photography today…

The film, which is shown below, features some of the most significant figures in contemporary photography, from Juergen Teller to Mario Sorrenti, Nobuyoshi Araki to Ari Marcopoulos. Yet it is as much an account of a personal journey for Lebon: shot in a cinema vérité style, it chronicles his thoughts and experiences in making the piece (including phone calls to his father, Mark Lebon, another acclaimed photographer), and also features many different shooting styles and techniques. This encourages the audience to think about the nature of image-making while also absorbing the stories revealed by the participants. The film is shown below:

Lebon has enjoyed significant success in recent years, in his commercial shoots for brands such as Gap, Nokia and Stüssy, and in his personal projects, which include a book of work for Baron magazine, exploring how digital technology has impacted on sexuality. Yet for this project, he took a pause to reflect.

“I’ve always been fascinated by photography and photographers since my teens,” he tells CR. “I wrote my dissertation for my anthropology MA on a photographer, my dad’s a photographer, but I thought I would make documentaries and didn’t want to be a photographer. Anyway, as it worked out, photography became my career and then as I got busier over recent years, I felt like I needed to take some time away. Taking time to reflect on where I was at by being able to observe and talk to photographers I admire and am interested in felt like an exciting thing to do. So in December last year, I decided to take six months off shooting photos myself to do a project on photographers.”

Choosing who to include in the film happened in a number of ways. “It was a mix between some of my favourite photographers whose work I admire, and then some were recommended and introduced to me by others, and some are friends I’ve known for years,” Lebon continues. “Photographers are often pretty tricky people and busy photographers have a lot of demands on their time. So getting hold of them to even properly explain what you would like to do is hard enough.

“Juergen took me two years to properly get hold of,” he continues. “He had been filmed for another documentary a year or two before and wasn’t keen to allow that again. But I was persistent and eventually he agreed. Araki, even though he was in an exhibition with Juergen, was hard to track down and it was actually thanks to a friend inviting me to his karaoke bar in Tokyo that I eventually managed to meet him. Takeshi Homma is one of my favourite parts of the film and he is an amazing person to meet and talk to, but the few hours I got to spend with him were only confirmed just before. Similarly there were other great photographers I would have loved to have included in this, and came very close to meeting but things just didn’t quite work out for one reason or another. But I am pretty persistent and will continue to track them down!”

The film’s loose style was in part due to Lebon’s decision to make the work alone, which presented a number of difficulties. “Travelling and working as a one man band was pretty hard while doing certain sections of the filming when I was moving quickly to different countries,” he says. “Jetlag, constantly organising the next bits of filming, film jams, trying to get good sound, and all this while try to be focused and interview someone at the same time was pretty exhausting. But I needed to be alone as I wanted the film to feel intimate and even if I could’ve had a big crew it wouldn’t have helped to get the footage I was after.”

Some of the appearances by photographers in the film are pretty fleeting, so it makes sense to discover that this version of the project is not the completed work. “This film should actually be seen as an extended trailer for a bigger book project,” explains Lebon. “The book will include photographs, texts and films about 30 or so photographers – each film will be a short, 15 minute-ish portrait of each photographer, and I hope to have it finished by this time next year.”

Despite the film being one of the more comprehensive explorations of the work of contemporary photographers, Lebon doesn’t see it revealing any grand truths about the medium. “I don’t think it reveals anything specifically about photography today,” he says. “I hope it gives an insight into the ways these different photographers think and approach their work and their lives. But the thing it probably reveals most clearly is the journey I went on while trying to make this film about photography. As my dad says in the introduction, a film about photography should be seen as a lie about a lie, or maybe a truth about a truth…”

The film is released today via Canvas, a new platform sponsored by Grolsch that is “committed to promoting original cultural thinking and creativity”. It is created in collaboration with Somesuch production company and DoBeDo.

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