The Picture Taker

Meet Ernest Withers, civil rights photographer, and FBI informant. The Picture Taker reveals the man and motives behind the iconic images.

Ernest Withers
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
January 30, 2023
90 minutes
Funding Initiative
Open Call
Series and Special Projects
filmmaker Phil Bertelsen

Phil Bertelsen

Emmy and Peabody winner Phil Bertelsen directed Through the Fire, School of the Future, and episodes of The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross and Finding Your Roots. He co-directed NBC’s Hope and Fury: MLK, the Movement and the Media and Netflix's Who Killed Malcolm X?, which helped exonerate two men convicted of Malcolm X’s murder. 

filmmaker Lise Yasui

Lise Yasui

Lise Yasui produced and directed the Oscar-nominated Family Gathering, about her Japanese American family’s WWII internment experience. It aired on American Experience, the BBC, and Star TV. She co-produced Frontline's Peabody-winning The Gate of Heavenly Peace, about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, which was broadcast internationally. 

We fund untold stories for public media.

Learn more about funding opportunities with ITVS.

The Film

The vibrant life of Ernest Withers was anything but black and white. Soldier, police officer, civil rights activist, and paid FBI informant. It’s an unlikely resume for an African American photographer in the 1960s, but complex times spawn complicated stories. From his Memphis studio, Withers developed nearly 2 million images that came to illustrate America’s civil rights stories. But perhaps the push and pull of history is best illuminated by Withers’ lesser-known work, decades of secret FBI service uncovered only after his death. From the flashpoint of an American saga, The Picture Taker brings us a tale from in front of, and behind, the camera.