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A MID the strange ingredients of Hollywood ... there is a figure unknown to the chants of promoters and glorifiers ... This figure, a giant in his industry, is the cameraman--the sine qua non of a profession, which often boasts that no one in its ranks is indispensable. No one, I say, save the cameraman ... If art can be said to be the expression of beauty in form, colour, sound, shape or movement, then it must be said that same art is the art of the cameraman--expressed in his boundless reaches of his imagination ... For his patience and singleness of purpose in a most arduous work, he is eminently deserving of that which is justly said of few men: 'He is a true artist.' Cecil B. DeMille (1)
1. Setting the scene: Australian cinematographers
'Cinematography' translates to light (photo) written (graphy) in movement (cinema) (2)
'Cinematography', says George Turner, 'is the heartbeat of cinema. It's the one achievement of science, art and craft without which motion pictures could never have progressed beyond such parlour amusements as the zeotrope and praxinoscope.' (3) Before the advent of motion pictures there were photographs and paintings, theatre and literature. Cinematography combines each of these elements and turns what was once a single expression into twenty-four expressions per second.
Natural or man-made sources of light are moulded onto a framed visual canvas, where actors move and speak dialogue to one another. Cameras capture these moments through light mixing with emulsion (or digital elements), creating the images the audience witnesses on screen. 'The cinematography concept,' says Oscar-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, 'is the most important thing. Because at the end, what is really arriving at the audience is an image focused by light and all the components of light.' (4) Cinematography is cinema.
A cinematographer must combine a deep knowledge of the technical aspects of his or her craft with a comprehension of visual art history and creativity. In the beginning, the first film stocks were made of cellulose nitrate that was monotone and extremely flammable. Next came cellulose acetate and colour, polyester and finally digital recording processes. Along the way a cinematographer's tool box grew to include filters, gauze, scrims, dollies and cranes, all the while looking to the masters of the past for inspiration. For some this came in the form of painters and artists such as Rembrandt, known for his single-source lighting. Or Vermeer, for his delicate shadowing and depth within the image. Or Tom Roberts, for the soft golden sunlight in his Australian Impressionist works during the nineteenth century.
A cinematographer is also a leader. As Dennis Schaefer and Larry Salvato note in their introduction to Masters Of Light, 'the consummate cinematographer is able to meld all the required technical and supervisory skills together so that he is an efficient line manager and a superb technician as well as a visual artist'. (5) The cinematographer is the leader of a virtual army of grips, gaffers, best boys, camera operators, camera assistants, lighting technicians, laboratory technicians, colour graders and electricians. His or her job concerns the management of people, hiring those who can and firing those who can't contribute to a successful film.
Cinematography in Australia has had a long and successful tradition. After an initial foray from around 1906 lasting thirty years and encompassing the silent era, the feature filmmaking industry slowed to leave newsreel and documentary productions as the main form of filmmaking in Australia. This left some cameramen, including future Oscar winner Robert Krasker (Best Cinematography, Black and White for The Third Man [Carol Reed, 1949]), little option but to leave Australia to find employment elsewhere around the globe. As the feature industry slowed, a great tradition of documentary filmmaking began and in 1943 Australia's first Academy Award (for Best Documentary) came for the film Kokoda Front Line (Ken G. Hall, 1942). Film Australia, then called the Commonwealth Film Unit, prospered by encapsulating outback and native Australian elements in documentary films that were successful both in Australia and overseas. Later, television stations such as ABC, Channel Seven and Channel Nine became a part of documenting Australian life. The documentary tradition remained vibrant and dominant until the advent of the 1970s 'revival' of Australian film, which saw Australian feature filmmaking regain some of the impetus lost throughout the 1930s, 1940s and …