Cinematographers' light as expertise, expression, material and energy
Cathy Greenhalgh (Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London)
Paper short abstract:
This paper draws on my ethnography of feature film cinematographers and investigates their beliefs and professional rhetoric about light; lighting as skilled vision and knowledge transfer, creative accident and lighting invention; industrial artistry and ecology-oriented cultural approaches.
Paper long abstract:
Cinematographers try to control light in television drama and feature film-making through knowledge aesthetics and technique. They are key collaborators with directors, responsible for creative and practical decisions about lighting, composition and camera movement. 'Light effects can be used to direct attention, reveal shape and form, establish environment, characterise objects, develop compositional and story relationships, and maintain visual continuity. Light orients space, creates tactile feeling through embellishing textures of objects and faces, and orients time - the day, the season, the period' (Greenhalgh in Making Pictures : A Century of European Cinematography, 2003 : 117). Cinematography is both art and science; a practice of enchantment, making material, experimentation and testing, to find ways to compel psychological and narrative motion on screen for the audience. This paper draws on my ethnography of feature film cinematographers and investigates their beliefs and professional rhetoric about light; lighting as skilled vision (Grasseni, 2009) and knowledge transfer, creative accident and lighting invention; and the roots of industrial artistry and ecologically-oriented cultural approaches. Their work is often overlooked with directors "taking the limelight". Lighting is the area in which the cinematographers stamp or signature can most clearly be seen, as John Bailey attests : 'Cinematographers have an especially magical tool to facilitate self-expression and discovery. It is light, at once lambent and elusive, and also static and solid. Our work, our experiments in space and time, our aesthetic statements, are encapsulated by it. And, ultimately, it is one key to our unique personal history' (in Greenhalgh, 2003).
Light as material culture, experience and practice