‘Uncropped’: Images That Make You Want to Pause the Movie


A photograph is a record of the past from the moment the shutter snaps, which lends the medium a bit of wistfulness. That emotion also permeates “Uncropped” (in theaters), D.W. Young’s documentary about the eminent photographer James Hamilton. It’s not a biographical movie, at least not in the usual sense, though Young keeps the filmmaking stripped-down and simple. For the most part, “Uncropped” involves conversations between Hamilton and various friends, mostly around tables in his apartment and others’. Journalists, photographers and the odd celebrity or two (Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, the director Wes Anderson) discuss Hamilton’s work and recount the old days. Interspersed with the conversations are shots of Hamilton’s photos, often breathtaking images that make you want to pause the movie and just look.

That is, of course, the point. Hamilton’s photos appeared everywhere, though he’s best known for his work as a photographer at The Village Voice from 1974 to 1993. His style is distinctive: sharp contrasts, bright highlights, often a telling or humorous detail lurking in the shot that you don’t see for a few seconds. He photographed celebrities and prisoners, rockers and critics and, eventually, wars and film productions. He has always processed his own negatives, providing options to magazines, and editors know better than to crop the photos; Hamilton’s eye for composition is unparalleled. It’s an immense body of work that never stops being interesting to look at.

Admiring his photographs could, of course, be accomplished in an exhibition or book (and there is one monograph, “You Should Have Heard Just What I Seen,” edited by Moore and accompanied by a show in 2010). But what makes “Uncropped” so great — and so memorable — is the way a chronicle of New York City’s art and media scenes from the 1960s forward emerges from the conversations. Discussions about collaborations between writers and photographers and editors reveal a different media world, one in which you sometimes got the chance to do something wild and daring and great, and do it even though everyone thought you were ridiculous for trying.

It was a time of experimentation and feisty editorial staffs, a time before algorithms took over the way we consumed news and culture. It wasn’t perfect; the budgets weren’t always great; nobody got everything right. But it’s an era that’s gone, and one worth mourning. Golden ages are generally mythical, but it’s hard to say we’re better off now — and “Uncropped” makes an excellent case for what we lost.



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