James Hamilton is a legendary photographer whose work has spanned seven decades and has been published in prestigious publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, The New York Observer, New York Magazine, and The Village Voice. His portfolio includes images of music and film superstars, legendary directors, notorious criminals, and powerful politicians, as well as coverage of wars, famines, and revolutions.
D.W. Young’s new documentary, Uncropped, focuses on Hamilton’s life and work. It not only celebrates Hamilton’s genius but also serves as a tribute to the now-defunct alt-weekly marketplace and offers a glimpse into the lost art of photojournalism in an age of iPhone snapshots.
Uncropped goes beyond being a mere biography of James Hamilton, serving as a vehicle to tap into myriad other topics, a pivot-point that comfortably makes Hamilton all the easier to admire by the time the closing credits roll. The documentary delves into Hamilton’s life experiences, from his early days with a camera to his time at the rock magazine, Crawdaddy. As his career intersects with the transforming cultural scene of New York City in the 1970s, Uncropped portrays a bygone journalistic moment and the generational discrepancies in the art of photojournalism.
The celebration of The Village Voice is a standout chapter of the documentary, with luminaries and colleagues sharing memories and situating Hamilton at the center of their stories. Conversations between Hamilton and Sylvia Plachy, his fellow Voice shutterbug, are full of admiration and provide a clear reminder to other documentary filmmakers about the power of collaboration and warmth in interviews.
Additionally, Uncropped features an assortment of friends and partners who discuss the eclectic nature of Hamilton’s career. With stories about his friendship with Bill Paxton and the accident that effectively ended his journalistic career, the documentary presents a poignant look at Hamilton’s personal and professional life.
Moreover, Young’s work provides an understanding of the fertile environments that publications like The Village Voice and Los Angeles Weekly were, nurturing talented individuals, and the loss incurred due to the shuttering or devaluation of such papers.
In essence, Uncropped is not just a biography; it is a thought-provoking exploration of a transformative era in photojournalism and a valuable tribute to the artistry of James Hamilton. His work, which spans over seven decades, continues to be tremendous and deserves the kind of spotlight that Uncropped provides. The documentary is not only effective as a biography but also as an ode to alt-weeklies of yore, bringing attention to the lost art of photojournalism.