A list of movies or songs (or anything pertaining to art) is bound to be missing some notable entries. By no means is this a list of the best 15 songs about photography. And it doesn’t cover all genres of music either. But it is a list of songs that, while not necessarily focusing on photography as the core theme, still manage to touch the sentiments of photographers everywhere.
Album art for this article is being used under fair use.
Table of Contents
“Photograph” by Ringo Starrr
I can think of at least three other songs by reputed musicians that have the same title. There’s the one by Ed Sheeran with the autobiographical music video to go along with it. Gen Xers will undoubtedly remember the classic 1983 tune by the active rock legends Def Leppard. And who can forget the titular tune by the band that everyone loves to hate – Nickelback. But the one that resonates most with me is by Sir Richard Starkey, more commonly known by his moniker Ringo Starr. This was co-written with fellow bandmate from The Beatles, George Harrison, and is the lead single from his 1973 album Ringo.
How many of you know that Ringo Starr was a proficient photographer himself. He’s even published books about his photography. One of them is literally titled” Photograph.”
“Paparazzi” by Lady Gaga
For me, any mention of the word paparazzi takes me back to the morning of September 1, 1997, when I woke up to the news of the tragic death of Princess Diana. It’s been over two decades since then, but this word has remained a trigger of sorts to the sadness of that day and the weeks that followed.
A little over two decades after that tragedy, the world awoke to a new musical talent named Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, better known to the world as Lady Gaga. Hot on the heels of the rocking success of the first two songs from her album ‘The Fame,’ she released another couple of popular numbers, the second of which was Paparazzi. Gaga expresses a love-hate dynamic with the paparazzi, acknowledging their role in boosting her fame while also critiquing their invasive tactics. The song sheds light on the darker side of fame and the consequences of living in the public eye.
“Pictures of You” by The Cure
Pictures Of You was released as a single from The Cure’s 1989 album Disintegration. Known for its atmospheric sound, heartfelt lyrics, and emotional impact, the song explores themes of loss and reminiscence. As with most music videos, I wish I could make more sense of what the visuals were trying to imply. Still, the guitar work, ethereal synthesizers, and slow tempo create a dreamlike and wistful atmosphere for your listening pleasure.
Several sources have been attributed as the inspiration behind this song. The most notable one is by Robert Smith himself, who once destroyed many old personal photos as a way to erase part of his past. An act that he regretted later.
Here’s an interesting bit of trivia. The band’s second world tour, which began in 1981, was titled “The Picture Tour.”
“I’ll Wait” by Van Halen
With a more pop-rock style than their earlier songs, the American rock band Van Halen released I’ll Wait as part of their sixth studio album, 1984. It was written in collaboration with former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald. The song features Eddie Van Halen’s virtuosic guitar playing, combining guitar solos and melodic riffs. It reached no 13 on the Billboard Top 100 back then. No music video was filmed for it at the time. The song showcases the band’s ability to evolve their sound while maintaining their distinctive musical identity.
“Kodachrome” by Paul Simon
To the best of my knowledge, Kodak had nothing to do with this song in terms of sponsoring or greenlighting the lyrics. Even though the lyrics sing the praises of this popular 35mm stock. Written by one half of the legendary band Simon & Garfunkel, this catchy song touches on the limitations and fleeting nature of memories. Analog or digital, I’d recommend you all print more of your photographs anyway. The BBC refused to air this song in the UK, though, as they didn’t want it to seem like they were indirectly endorsing Kodak’s product. Can’t help but agree with Paul Simon about the winning combination of a Nikon SLR and a roll of Kodachrome.
They give us those nice bright colors
Give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away
“Click Click Click” by New Kids On The Block
One of the original boy bands that made an impact in the 80s and 90s, NKOTB, was quite prominent during my childhood. This track by them after their reunion in 2008. Incorporating elements of R&B, the song still retains the group’s signature pop melody. Although the “click, click, click” in the lyrics also symbolizes the shutter sounds made by cameras, it could refer to the instantaneous connection between the song’s protagonist and his muse. It’s one of those songs that you either love or hate.
“Hey Ya!” by Outkast
This song introduced many to the catchphrase “Shake it like a Polaroid picture.” The phrase is an apparent reference to the vigorous flapping of the Polaroid print that many of us do instantly after it’s ejected from the camera. It won them a Best Urban/Alternative Performance Grammy at the 46th Grammy Awards. Interestingly, Polaroid recommends that you don’t shake the photos this way. Whether you choose to shake your Polaroids or not, give the song a listen. It’s a catchy number.
“Polaroid Picture” by Frank Turner
Still on the theme of Polaroids, this is one of those songs that makes you nostalgic about the good old days. It’s a relatively recent track (if you consider 2013 as being not so long ago), and it reflects on the passage of years and the way memories quickly fade with time. The singer almost implores the listener to take a Polaroid picture before it’s too late, in order to freeze memories forever. The song starts on a slow note before energetic beats catch up.
After listening to this track, I sat down and tried to recollect all those times when I could and should have taken a picture, but I didn’t. And as much as I wish I had, I let that moment become nothing more than a memory in my head. It’s a lot easier nowadays with the convenience of smartphone cameras. So take a moment, smile, and take that photograph. Your future self will thank you for it someday.
Take a Polaroid pictureFrank Turner
(Let go of the little distractions)
Take a Polaroid picture
(Hold close to the ones that you love)
Take a Polaroid picture
(We all want you to see where time goes)
Please Take a Polaroid picture
(While you can take a picture of us)
“Camera Phone” by The Game (featuring Ne-Yo)
The Game collaborated with R&B artist Ne-Yo in “Camera Phone” to produce a song blending rap and R&B with melodic vocal performances. The lyrics revolve around casually capturing fun moments at a party using camera phones. The Game confidently raps his verses while the ever-melodious Ne-Yo sings the catchy chorus in his signature smooth voice.
“Family Portrait” by P!nk
A deeply personal song for the artist, Family Portrait explores the crippling effects of separation and divorce on young children. P!nk wrote this thoughtful ballad at the age of 21, based on a poem that she penned when her parents divorced 12 years before that. The song describes how often family portraits showcase a happy scene when the reality of the situation might be far from pleasant. The emotional notes that she hits during the song clearly show how much of an impact the events of her childhood must have had on her while growing up.
“Girls On Film” by Duran Duran
Opening with the addictive shutter sounds of what appears to be a Nikon FM or FM2, this song looks to be about the glamorous world of fashion, even if the visuals in the music video aren’t quite the same theme. Featuring signature elements of Duran Duran’s sound, such as the catchy bassline and electronic sounds, the narrative centers around the sometimes exploitative nature of the fashion industry. They released it just a handful of weeks before MTV went live in 1981. Only the third single from the British band, the originally filmed controversial music video for this almost overshadowed the track’s success.
“Send A Picture Of Mother” by Johnny Cash
This track was part of the “At Folsom Prison” album, recorded live on location at the California state prison. It’s about a prisoner longing to see his mother and asks for a photograph to hold on to. Capturing feelings of homesickness, the track explores the strong yet often disconnected emotions that incarcerated prisoners feel toward their loved ones. Many prisoners around the country would often write in to Cash asking to perform for them. This inspired him to create this song and album. His deep voice crooning over his legendary guitar skills makes for an emotional piece.
“Camera” by R.E.M.
This isn’t one of the more peppy songs on our list. The track is more melancholic in terms of both the melody and the lyrics. R.E.M. wrote this song as a tribute to Carol Levy, the band’s photographer. Sadly she passed away in a car crash while on tour with the band to promote their first album Murmur.
“Electric Eye” by Judas Priest
One of the signature tunes of British heavy metal band Judas Priest, the 1982 song Electric Eye was prophetic. Exploring themes of surveillance and invasion of privacy, the track’s heavy drumming and rip-roaring vocals address concerns about the impact of technology on society. Sounds creepy? We’re living in this kind of world right now, whether we like it or not.
Always in focus
You can’t feel my stare
I zoom into you
But you don’t know I’m there
I take a pride in probingJudas Priest
All your secret moves
My tearless retina takes pictures that can prove
“Photographs Can Lie” by Elvis Costello & The Imposters
They certainly can, and with the advent of image-generating AI tools, it’s becoming increasingly harder to tell what’s a photograph and what isn’t. A song from their 2018 album titled “Look Now,” the track looks at the deceptive nature of photographs and how they can mask genuine emotions and realities. Is every photograph a lie? I guess in some ways it is, depending on what is framed inside the photo and what’s left out. At least Elvis Costello and his band seem to think so.
What are some of your favorite songs about photography? Let us know in the comments which ones you’d recommend.