Prints from Blow-Up, 1966
Along with Funny Face (Stanley Donen, 1957) and Eyes of Laura Mars (Irvin Kershner, 1978), Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966) is an essential fashion-photography film. Based on a Julio Cortázar short story, the film features actor David Hemmings as Thomas, a swaggering fashion photographer working in mod-era London, a character loosely modeled after several photographers including David Bailey. Thomas believes he has witnessed and photographed a murder while taking photographs of two lovers in a park. Seeking to confirm his suspicions he takes to the darkroom and enlarges his photographs but the images only become more obscured, grainy, and inconclusive. The film is a brilliant meditation on reality, perception, and the evidentiary role of photography.
As Antonioni remarked, “I always mistrust everything which I see, which an image shows me, because I imagine what is beyond it. And what is beyond an image cannot be known.”
The photographs in the film were made by Don McCullin, the celebrated documentary photographer known for showing the world through his searing coverage of the Vietnam War and urban poverty in England. “I was doing what the Hemmings character was supposed to be doing,” McCullin has remarked.
“All the blow-ups in the film were mine.” However, McCullin’s name does not appear in the film’s credits. Around twenty of the original McCullin prints were rediscovered in 1995 at a film memorabilia auction in London, and are the only known surviving 20-by-24-inch prints used in the classic film. They bear the markings of their use as props: one can see the pinholes made when Hemmings pinned the enlargements to the walls or beams of his studio set. Two are reproduced above, and most of the set is now touring Europe in an exhibition about Blow-Up’s enduring influence. The film continues to be a relevant commentary on photography, and a reminder of how both the genres of fashion and documentary play with illusion and reality. — The Editors