Cameraperson (4 stars)


Kirsten Johnson / credit: Majlinda Hoxha

Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson reflects on a quarter of a century behind the camera

Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson has spent the past 25 years capturing precious moments and unforgettable images. She has worked for directors as diverse as Laura Poitras, Michael Moore and Barbara Kopple. Cameraperson is her first feature as a solo director; what starts out as a personal memoir builds into a thoughtful, compelling examination of the sense of responsibility that is an intrinsic part of being a documentary filmmaker.

Johnson's plan is to use previously unseen footage as a means to revisit those images that have 'marked me and leave me wondering'. There are glimpses of a boxer preparing for a fight, a midwife dealing with a succession of births in Nigeria and a boy talking about the loss of vision in one eye. What we start to appreciate is the incredible bond of trust that Johnson establishes with her subjects. You can almost feel the compassion and sensitivity radiating from her side of the camera.

She has been a witness to history and to individuals at their most vulnerable. How you maintain any sense of objectivity in the face of devastating emotional encounters and harrowing testimony is a recurring theme of the film. Some of the most poignant scenes are of Johnson's mother after her diagnosis of Alzheimer's, as she walks forlornly outdoors in a howling storm seemingly lost in her own world. In the face of immense personal heartache Johnson's camera remains unflinching and the duty to capture the truth of that moment is never avoided.

Cameraperson is filled with striking shots of Guantanamo Bay, Tahrir Square, the World Trade Center and Wounded Knee Creek but is as much about ethics as aesthetics and builds into an inspirational reflection of Johnson's integrity and unwavering commitment to her art.

Selected release from Fri 27 Jan.


  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • 1h 42min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Kirsten Johnson
  • Cast: Kirsten Johnson
  • UK release: 27 January 2017

Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson’s first feature as a solo director is a personal memoir as well as a thoughtful and compelling examination of the sense of responsibility that’s part of being a documentary filmmaker. It’s filled with striking shots but what’s most remarkable is Johnson’s integrity and commitment to her art.