Cinematographers deserve more recognition and appreciation, especially from viewers who fall in love with their camerawork and/or lighting but don’t understand what exactly they (Directors of Photography aka DP) are doing on set. Here’s a list of some of the greatest DPs of all time, likely influenced by their military service and experience with their creative choices:
Gilbert Taylor has spent his professional career as a cinematographer on some of the greatest films of all time including dr Strangelove, The night of a hard day, The Omen, Flash Gordon (yes that) and war of stars. His seminal and most commercial work was for George Lucas and his space opera. Star Wars nailed so many things, but the camerawork and capture of so many difficult scenes and special effects make Taylor think he’s number one on the list.
Taylor told Mark Newbold in 2005, “I wanted to give war of stars a unique visual style that would set it apart from other films in the sci-fi genre. I wanted war of stars For clarity, because I don’t think space is fuzzy, I was also aware that there was a tremendous amount of process work to be done in America with Dykstra after we finished filming in England and a clear outcome would be support this process”.
Taylor spent six years in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve as an operational cameraman aboard Avro Lancaster bombers. His job was to document the damage after a bomb attack. In his interview with Mark Newbold he says this about his wartime footage: ‘This was requested by Winston Churchill and my footage was delivered to 10 Downing Street for viewing. He really wanted the public to see what our boys are doing. I conducted 10 of these operations, including raids in Cologne and Dresden.”
2. Fred J. Konkamp
Koenkamp was no longer DP on the TV show The lieutenant, an early series from Gene Roddenberry about a Marine lieutenant stationed at Camp Pendleton, to working for some of the greatest filmmakers of all time. His credits include TV credits UNCLE’s husband, The Outer Limits, Impossible Mission and kung fu. His Oscar-winning film credits include patton (nominated), papillion and The mighty inferno (won with Joseph Biroc).
Koenkamp enlisted in the US Navy at the outbreak of World War II and served in the South Pacific for over three years.
3. Joseph Biroc
Biroc’s career began in the 1920s and he worked as a camera assistant for DPs. He is notable for his cinematic work on It’s a beautiful life, Psst…Pssst, sweet Charlotte (Oscar-nominated), flight of the phoenix, The longest yard, Airplane! and The mighty inferno (won the Oscar with Fred J. Koenkamp). His TV credits include the Adventures of Superman, UNCLE’s husbandand Dick Tracy.
He began his career as a motion picture cameraman for the US Army Signal Corps during World War II. During his service he filmed the horrors of the Dachau concentration camp and the liberation of Paris in 1944. Throughout the war he served as captain for George Stevens, an Oscar-winning director and veteran, and his Special Motion Picture Coverage Unit. At the end of the war he attained the rank of major.
4. Alan Hume
Hume began his career in the early 1940s and then served in the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm during World War II. Upon his return, he began working for British Films as a cinematographer on films such as Great expectations for David Lean. He switched to Continue series of British films and eventually found great success as a cinematographer on films such as For your eyes only, Return of the Jedi, Octopus, A look at a kill and A fish named Wanda.
Andrew Laszlo lived many lives during his time here. During World War II his family initially lived in Hungary and Laszlo was taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp with most of his family. He was transferred to several camps and used to lay railroad tracks. After an air raid on his previous work camp, he was then transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He lived for months under hunger, extreme cold, beatings, and all the other cruelties that accompany being in a concentration camp. As the war drew to a close, he was transported to another concentration camp in Theresienstadt and contracted typhus. In the camp he meets his father again. They were liberated by Soviet troops on May 8, 1945 and taken back to Hungary. He then emigrated to the USA via an uncle George Laszlo and began his career.
Laszlo is quoted from the documentation The cameraman’s style:
…Then came the biggest break of my life. I was the first person from New York City to be drafted into the Korean War by the Army. I ended up in US Army film school, which was wonderful. Not only did we have all the equipment, the school insisted that we shoot 35mm motion pictures, thousands of meters, day in and day out, and of course it’s the best way to learn while doing it.
When I came out of the army it was a bit rough. I was a young man trying to get into the industry which was very difficult because I didn’t have a track record. I really tried everything to get a job. In fact, I resorted to gags, which I’m actually a little bit self-confident about today. I’ve been rejected by so many producers, even small producers; I couldn’t even get past secretaries. At one point I would send out handprinted resumes on sandpaper just so they would remember. I mailed resumes on shirt cardboard so they couldn’t crumple them up and throw them in the bin. Finally came the breaks. I would take any job that was offered to me as long as I had the opportunity to be behind a camera, light something, experiment with lenses and so on. Then better jobs came up and that’s how I started. Like I said, the important thing is to stick with it.
His films include the Warriors, Southern comfort, First blood, Poltergeist II: The Other Side and Star Trek V: The Last Frontier. His TV work includes the big ones shogun miniseries.
6. Douglas Slocumbe
Slocombe worked as a photographer early in his career and was in Warsaw the night Germany invaded during World War II. He fled back to England and began working as a cameraman for the Ministry of Information, filming convoys on the Atlantic for the Fleet Air Arm. After the war he started working as a cameraman and his career took off! His films include The lion in winter, The Great Gatsby, Jesus Christ Superstar, rollerball, Hunter of the lost treasure, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.