A billboard on a passing bus announces a major retrospective of America’s greatest photographer of urban life. Above it, riders sit at the windows, caught in a fleeting moment of distraction not unlike those in Winogrand’s own images. In the right corner, a young blond woman looks down at a book, or more likely, this being 2013, her iPhone screen. Another young blond woman, shown on the exhibition ad below, looks in the opposite direction. This fortuitous juxtaposition and the even more unlikely fact of a major museum traveling exhibition of more than 300 of Winogrand’s photographs, almost 30 years after his death—would have seemed both inevitable, and pure happenstance, to the genial yet morose, public yet reclusive, artist.
Los Angeles. c.1980-81.
Continue reading ‘On the Streets: Garry Winogrand at SFMOMA—Part One’
Ever since acquiring the first proof print more than ten years ago of Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photograph of the raising of Old Glory on Iwo Jima’s Mt. Suribachi, Houston Museum of Fine Arts photography curator Anne Wilkes Tucker has been on a mission. It has taken her and colleagues on a worldwide search into collections and archives for photographs of war. The result is a deeply moving and comprehensive exhibition of 165 years of conflict photography, from the 1846 Mexican-American War to June 2012 and the war in Libya.
Vietnam War photojournalist Don McCullin in front of Louie Palu’s portrait of Sgt. Carlos Orjuela.
David Hume Kennerly and Nick Ut at the opening.
Continue reading ‘WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: At the Annenberg Space’
In 2005, a Palestinian farmer named Emad Burnat acquired a cheap consumer video camera. His intention was to record the day-to-day life of his recently born fourth son, Jibril. The rapid growth of his three other sons had given him a keen sense of how quickly childhood is lost in the hardscrabble, rocky hills of his West Bank hometown, Bil’in. About the same time, construction crews under the aegis of the Israeli military (IDF), descended on the perimeter of the town, ripped open the earth, and began construction of a chain link and razor wire fence that bisected the traditional Palestinian farmlands. Beyond the fence and on higher ground overlooking the community olive grove, breakneck construction of multi-story, multi-block housing for new Israeli settlers was underway. One of the earliest scenes in what was to become Burnat’s six-year filmmaking odyssey shows Israeli surveyors with their tripods and theodolites, standing on a rocky but grassy Palestinian hill. A few shots later, a bulldozer uproots and cranes away olive trees from their adjacent valley, like amputating limbs from the villagers’ bodies.
Burnat soon began shooting footage of his and his fellow villager’s non-violent protests against the Israeli land grab, the erection of the illegal fence (and later, of the concrete separation wall that runs through the West Bank). Their non-violent but impassioned demonstrations were routinely broken up by IDF forces, who launched thousand of gas grenades to disperse them. Continue reading ‘FIVE BROKEN CAMERAS: Two Directors Under Fire’
This sculpture from the third millennium B.C. rests on a sunlit ledge in my office. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. It is in my office, but it was carved in the 21st century after Christ, not before —a reproduction of a similar piece that rests in a vitrine in the Classical Greek galleries of the Metropolitan Museum, New York City.
Marble head from figure of a woman, in gallery 151.
When I first saw this Cycladic sculpture and several companion pieces such as this harp player decades ago at the Met—
Harp player, gallery 151.
I was astounded at how modern they were. I thought immediately of the early 20th century Roumanian master, Brancusi, whose work is also on display in the Met, and whose sculptures I knew far better. Continue reading ’82nd & Fifth: The Met Online’
This image appeared above the page one fold in the NY Times Arts and Leisure section on Sunday March 3, 2013.
It is both an amusing and a disturbing mash up graphic: that often debated link between screen violence and real life violence that continues to haunt us. This simple image prompted me to look again at how I, a working cinematographer, consider the violent imagery in movies I photograph.
Love may be the great enduring theme in movies but so is hate, and the spawn of hate is violence. Love and hate are sometimes so inextricably linked in life and movies that any simple parsing eludes us. I think of that great scene of Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter when he dramatizes with intertwined fingers the eternal struggle for man’s soul.
Right hand “Love;” left hand “Hate.”
Continue reading ‘Killing Them (Not So) Softly’
The Chinese polymath artist Ai Weiwei was only one year old when his father Ai Quing, a revered poet who had run afoul of government censorship, and his mother, Gao Ying, were forced to leave their home in Beijing. For the next sixteen years, the family lived in the northwestern city of Shihezi in Xinjiang, with Tibet to the south and Mongolia to the north—a kind of internal exile bordering the Gobi desert. They were not allowed to return to Beijing until 1975; three years later, the young Weiwei enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy where two of his fellow students were the director Chen Kaige and cinematographer Gu Changwei. One can only imagine what a cinematic dustup Ai may have created had he become a filmmaker. Instead, he became a multi-faceted artist/provocateur whose works may seem on first viewing to be innocently beautiful—but are, in fact, charged with multiple, metaphoric political messages. Continue reading ‘Ai Weiwei: “According to What?” — “Never Sorry”’
Entry to the Quay Brothers MoMA retrospective.
Passing through the entry doors of the recent Quay Brotthers retrospective at MoMA is like Dorothy entering Oz—except the Quays’ is a world of murky darkness, not vibrant color, of conjecture, not conviction, of ghostly figures moving in a washed out, gritty netherworld. Forget the signposts of time and space that normally guide you through a movie; forget as well any sense of predictable narrative or of coherent character as you wander through their cinematic labyrinth. Here, it is best to invoke the opening of Rod Serling’s 50s TV series:
You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension – a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.
Continue reading ‘The Quay Brothers in the Twilight Zone’
The West Pavilion photography galleries of the Getty Center have for several years been the site of an annual visit hosted by Kodak for the Cinematography Fellows of the American Film Institute
AFI Fellows at entry to the Getty Center– Ray Metzker exhibition, January 10,2013.
At the behest of Stephen Lighthill, Senior Filmmaker-in-Residence at the AFI, and Lorette Bayle from Kodak, I’ve been able to conduct walkthroughs of some of the Getty’s most significant exhibitions. Last month, it was for a career retrospective of the work of Ray Metzker.
Metzger, City Whispers, Philadelphia?
Metzker has never fit easily into any of the categories that define most contemporary photographers. Although he had an early interest in photojournalism, perhaps coming from his experience as a veteran in the Korean War, the empathic humanism of the “Family of Man” artists so popular during his student days in the mid and late 50s, never became his focus. Metzker enrolled in the graduate photography program at Chicago’s Institute of Design, a school that had been founded by the experimental artist/photographer László Moholy-Nagy in the late 30s as the New Bauhaus. Hungarian born, he taught at the Dessau Bauhaus before coming to Chicago where he died of leukemia in 1946.
Moholy Nagy photogram.
Continue reading ‘AFI Cinematography Fellows at the Getty’
Robby Müller in Amsterdam, 2006.
The 2006 Camerimage tribute booklet to the esteemed Dutch cinematographer Robby Müller includes a short interview with this quiet, modest man, widely honored for his work in the United States and Europe. His vision of cinematography is passionately recorded in the distinctively personal images of his nearly seventy credits. Müller is one of a handful of camera artists such as Vittorio Storaro, Nestor Almendros and Sven Nykvist who have successfully juggled careers in art films, in the Hollywood mainstream, and in highly personal films of indie directors. Muller’s directors range from Europeans like Wim Wenders, Lars von Trier and Peter Handke and independents like Jim Jarmusch, Sally Potter and Alex Cox, to mainstream Hollywood directors like William Friedkin, Peter Bogdanovich and John Schlesinger. His filmography, ranging from the 1963 Megalopolis I when he was still working as a camera assistant, to his 2004 five minute short Nach Grauen Tage, is framed by a singular guideline:
When I choose to work on a film, the most important thing to me is that it is about human feelings. I try to work with directors who want their films to touch the audience, and make people discuss what the film was about long after they have left the cinema. Continue reading ‘Robby Müller: The ASC International Award, 2012′
Standing at the back of the Academy’s Dunn Theater in mid-December, hand cranking Joe Rinaudo’s restored 1909 Power’s projector, I felt sucked back into the flow of cinema history. The Cat’s Paw, a one reeler from 1912, unspooled at a soothing rhythm just as it had a century ago in some Midwestern nickelodeon. Later that evening at home, I reflected back on my own history—starting out as a projectionist, then a camera assistant, and of the purely sensory pleasure of film raw stock moving through the camera gate during shooting, and the finished movie through the theater projector some months later. The Lumiere Cinematographe, which the brothers used to photograph their first films, was an inspired wonder; it was easily converted from a camera to a projector. The Cinematographe first captured workers leaving the Lumiere family factory in Lyons; this film and fewer than a dozen other single setup, one minute films were projected at the first public paid screening in the rented basement of Paris’ Grand Cafe on December 28, 1895. In the photo below, the camera is rigged as a projector, with the lamphouse as a freestanding device behind it. More than a century of technical innovation in cinema represents still a technology that the Lumieres would recognize.
John’s Bailiwick: “Auguste and Louis Lumière Meet Bertrand Tavernier” link
On April 16 last year, I received an email from Larry Salvato, co-author of Masters of Light, a book published by UC Press in 1984—conversations with fifteen then contemporary cinematographers. It remains in print, even as many of its featured subjects have retired or passed away. A staple reference for film school students, the bright yellow dust jacket evokes Kodak’s signature color, with the book’s title in white letters emerging from a deep red block. Below, a black and white photo of Jean-Louis Trintignant and Stefania Sandrelli from Bernardo Bertolucci’s Conformista recalls a key shot in one of that era’s most influential films—the film that influenced me, and many of my peers, to dedicate our lives to cinematography.
Salvato wrote that UC Press was going to publish a new paperback edition of Masters of Light in January, 2013. He and Mary Francis, executive editor of Music and Cinema Studies at UC Press asked if I would write a foreword. Since I knew or had worked with all fourteen of the other interviewed cinematographers, I accepted instantly. I re-read the more than twenty-five year old interviews to see what was still true, what had changed . What I discovered surprised me. Continue reading ‘A Century Ago: Films of 1912—Part Two’