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Opening the Aperture: Women Cinematographers on Their Craft

Features

Jan 31, 2022

Opening the Aperture: Women Cinematographers on Their Craft
Thou Wast Mild and Lovely

Opening the Aperture: Women Cinematographers on Their Craft

Features

Jan 31, 2022

Movies are about looking, and no one involved in the making of a film is more directly responsible for the frames we look at than a cinematographer, or director of photography. Together with the director, the cinematographer shapes the visual vocabulary and texture of a film, making choices that have huge implications for style, tone, and storytelling. No director, no matter how all-encompassing their vision, can put it up on the screen without someone to attend to camera placement, lensing, lighting, and focus.

It’s one of the most important roles on any set, and historically it’s all too often been a gendered one. Even in the early days of cinema, when pioneering female directors like Lois Weber and Alice Guy-Blaché were at the forefront of silent filmmaking, camerawomen were rare: in the 1920s, newsreel shooter Louise Lowell was advertised as “the first and only camera-maid in the world.” No major Hollywood film of the studio era employed a female director of photography. The American Society of Cinematographers, founded in 1919, didn’t admit a single woman until 1980, when Brianne Murphy joined. As recently as 2019, it counted only eighteen women among its 390 members. This disparity is a key factor in one of mainstream cinema’s historic biases, which film theorist Laura Mulvey famously named the “male gaze.”

Still, the last five decades have seen several generations of women take up the tools of visual storytelling to shoot on their own terms—often working in tandem with female directors. Now playing on the Criterion Channel, Female Gaze: Women Directors + Women Cinematographers surveys this extraordinary tradition of women collaborating behind the camera. To accompany the series, we reached out to five of the trailblazing cinematographers whose work it features. Asked to pick and discuss a single scene highlighting their contributions to a film and their working relationship with the director, each of them focused in on different aspects of their craft, from choosing the right lens or film stock to conjuring a tone or evoking a point of view with the camera. The result is an illuminating look at the art of cinematography from five women who’ve spent their careers pushing the envelope in a changing industry. —Will Noah

 

Stories We Tell

Iris Ng on Acting Behind the Camera

Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell is a poignant and personal investigation into family lore that blends documentary and fiction—combining interviews with the director’s friends and family, Super 8 archival footage, and staged recreations that bring to life the secrets of her mother’s past. This excerpt from the film features a collage of those elements.

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