Photography in Film Posters
By Charlie Breen
Movies capture our hearts in a certain transient, enigmatic way. Watching stories unfold before our eyes immerses us within a new world. But a picture still says a thousand words. Still image photography has always played a crucial role in cinema. Films need publicity before release and these days our screens are rife with movie trailers, interviews and advertising campaigns. Before all of this, however, posters were the more dominant format for attracting audiences to theatres.
The sixties and seventies saw the rise of photography in film posters. With his work on films such as Midnight Cowboy (1969), Taxi Driver (1976), and The Godfather Series, Steve Schapiro’s photographs lent visceral yet compelling snapshots of what the films were offering. By working alongside principal photography of the films, Shapiro is able to capture thematic aspects as well as a glimpse of the characters. While these make for iconic movie posters, his vision and creativity made it possible for the photographs to stand alone and be viewed artistically regardless.
Photographic posters capture a single moment whether composed specifically for the use of an advertising campaign or cut from the film. Although the different mediums may undergo different processes, they always set the tone for the film. There is something to be learned from a movie poster but not enough to fully satisfy our intrigue. Artistic expression must coincide with putting people in theatre seats in order for a poster to be used. Yet when the two aspects work in unison the results can be magically iconic. Sometimes even more so than the film itself.
Graphic design and photo-shop play a huge role in composition and these days anyone can design a film poster online. With this there can be far less recognition for the photographer or cinematographer behind the movie poster, particularly with independent films. Perry Curties, photographer for film posters such as Harry Brown (2009) and Jarhead (2005), manages to blend an intriguing signature style while also appealing to contemporary norms depending on the film. Working alongside Empire Design, Curties’ work includes a mix of poster campaigns for mainstream and independent films. Fitting the criteria for blockbuster film posters, Curties’ work for 2019’s, Angel Has Fallen, leans towards a more epic character portrayal over an intrinsically abstract photographic expression of themes or tones. It seems that blockbusters, although needing skilled photographers for film posters, often require characters and action to be shown in a more familiar way to potential audiences. On the other hand, Perry’s wide range of work shows that independent films can allow more room for artistic expression in the posters used.
The independent film company, A24, produces films more akin to an art-house demographic. Their posters and advertising campaigns used for feature films often step outside of the norm to showcase images that are works of art in themselves. Posters for films such as Moonlight (2016) and Midsommar (2019) use unique compositions and eye-catching photographs synonymous with the styles and stories of the movies. The huge amount of mainstream attention that A24 films receive nowadays means that there is more exposure for subjective or abstract photographic film posters.
The photographic film poster continues the tradition of remaining iconic in the years after the film’s release, and the still sparks the feeling we associate with our first viewing as an audience. Films tell stories, and a poster sparks the intrigue to want to see that story unfold.