As you began your career, what films/cinematographers did you study and why? To be honest I studied the work of a huge range – from American greats like Conrad Hall ASC to modern British cinematographers like Roger Deakins BSC. I was always inspired heavily by foreign cinematographers, most notably Russian Mikhail Krickman’s collaborations with Andrey Zvyagintsev. I am mostly influenced by independent and art-house cinema, stylistically speaking. But I’ve always tried to draw influence from a wide range, which is one of the most exciting aspects of cinema – the diversity within it.
What other artistic fields influence your work? I’m very inspired by music, ranging from classical to electronic and everything in between. I also look at photographers – I think that’s a fairly common trait of cinematographers. And over the years I’ve often looked at the work of painters from past centuries because they really provide an amazing inspiration. They were the first artists to explore the concept of controlling light. It’s truly fascinating
Give us an example of a movie, a sequence that says “this is what making movies is all about”. One film really stands out for me – a French movie called The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. It’s a true story about a man suffering from locked in syndrome where his body is paralysed but his mind is still sharp. It’s a powerfully executed piece of cinema that is beautifully crafted. The cinematography is outstanding, the performances exceptional. Everything about it is powerful, and I remember seeing it for the first time and being blown away.
The use of the protagonist’s POV throughout the story is key, such an unusual technique but so compelling. When everything comes together, the emotion, performance, picture, music and sound, in such a way that it is far beyond the sum of its parts – that’s something special.
What is one of your favourite locations that you’ve shot and why? I’ve been fortunate to shoot in so many special places, but India is one of my favourite locations. I’ve done both commercial and documentary work there, and been there several times. I love working there. There’s something unique about the light, the kind of polluted haze that is absolutely unique and incredible to capture on camera. There is an energy in the air that I enjoy, the colours, the smells. The people are really friendly and it’s a very lively and exciting place to shoot.
If you hadn’t become a cinematographer, what would you have done? I think I would have been a chef. I feel there are many parallels between cooking and cinematography. There are a few jobs that have this balance between art and science, artistry and craft. Cooking is about getting the right ingredients together and this is particularly relevant to lighting. The right balance of where you light or where you don’t, soft light, hard light, colour, it’s the same with flavours of a dish. Shooting a scene perfectly is also about using the right combination of ingredients in the same way as preparing a meal.
As you speak to others who have the passion for the industry you do, what kind of advice do you pass on? Keep going. Never give up. And never stop learning. It can be a very slow moving industry, and on the flip side things can also happen really quickly, so it’s important to persevere and be patient.