When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
Ken Loach’s Kes (1969) struck a strong chord with me. I identified with the boy’s loneliness and the world of his imagination within an industrial, small-town setting. It remains one of my favorite films.
Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
There are so many whose work inspires me, and that in itself confirms the diversity of the art. My great mentor was Jack Cardiff, BSC, whose work with Powell and Pressburger, John Huston and many others is unparalleled in its artfulness and technical experimentation. I love the enhanced naturalism in the cinematography of Haskell Wexler, ASC; Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC; Chris Menges, ASC, BSC; and Chris Doyle, HKSC. There is deceptive simplicity in their approach, which always promotes the story rather than being spectacular or beautiful just for the sake of it.
What sparked your interest in photography?
The absolute tedium of living in a war zone (Armagh, Northern Ireland) fused with high-octane, explosive moments that made epic the everyday — it was a bit like a film set! I took refuge behind a camera and in a darkroom as a way of translating the real world through a lens. I got the bug when I saw my first images appearing in the developing tray under red light. It has always given me a thrill how the camera can infuse the apparently mundane with poetic attributes.
Where did you train and/or study?
I studied film and photographic arts at The Polytechnic of Central London (now the University of Westminster).
Who were your early teachers or mentors?
We had great teachers at The Polytechnic, including Polish cinematographer Jacek Petrycki; I learned so much from them and specifically from him. He had a thoughtful, philosophical approach to film. I learned a lot from Ian Wilson, BSC when I was his clapper loader. I have benefited throughout my career from filmmakers selflessly sharing their knowledge and experience with me. It’s something I try to do for others now.
What are some of your key artistic influences?
Looking at the natural play of light in all sorts of weather conditions and in different countries is a constant source of inspiration. An occasional glass of Bandol Rose encourages unformulaic creative thinking!
How did you get your first break in the business?
I was handed a Super 8 camera by Derek Jarman and told to go ‘hunter gathering’ for images. I was a camera assistant at the time, but it gave me the confidence to become a cameraman.
What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
Wrapping The Hours without being fired!
Have you made any memorable blunders?
Some of my blunders have produced unexpectedly beautiful results. I love happy accidents! Recently, while shooting Godzilla, I accidentally went to the lakeside set of Planet of the Apes 2, which was shooting close by and had a set very similar to the one we were going to shoot that day. I wandered around with my light meter, not recognizing anybody. It was a surreal, dreamlike experience until the blunder dawned on me!
What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
‘Cinematography is 10 percent cinematography and 90 percent bladder control.’
What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment, Patrick de Witt’s The Sisters Brothers, Bill Viola’s Transfiguration and everything by James Turrell. Also, dangerousminds.net is full of inspiring articles and pictures.
Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
I would love to shoot a Western.
If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
Possibly a journalist. It’s what I thought I wanted to be when I was young.
Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Roger Deakins, Amy Vincent and Rodney Taylor.
How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
It has allowed me to share my love of cinematography with fellow cinematographers whose work I revere. It has also emphasized the importance of sharing our experience with students in order to propagate and improve the art form.