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BYWAYS. Photographs by Roger A Deakins

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Shooting a film is so different from capturing a single still frame,” explains the master. “I don’t see why there would be any more or less crossover simply through a change in technology and camera size in particular. Ansel Adams’ still camera was pretty big!” Deakins studied photography at an art college in Bath (west of London, England) but does not necessarily apply the rules of photography to his filmmaking.

I’ve taken photographs most of my life. And I thought, “Well, what are you going to do with it?” The book was published by Damiani in Italy, they were very encouraging. But what people take from it, I don’t know. Despite now spending most of my time in Santa Monica, California, I’ve never quite been able to shake the allure of the British seaside. Perhaps it was growing up in Torquay, but there’s a history to these places that you don’t get in Santa Monica; a sense of nostalgia, of faded Victorian and Georgian glory, that speaks to me so strongly.It’s funny, when somebody asks, ‘What are your influences?’ I don’t know what to say. Surely your influences are every experience you’ve had. There’s so many painters whose work I love and know quite well, whether it’s Francis Bacon or Edvard Munch or Giorgio de Chirico. I studied many of them in college. But to say how much they’ve influenced me, that’s hard. There’s a couple of photographs in the book that remind me of de Chirico, maybe, but is it an influence or just a coincidence? I’m just as influenced by growing up in South Devon and spending my childhood out at sea, fishing. These things accumulate. I confess to feeling something like jealousy reading the record of Deakin’s wonderful, friend-filled existence, at once liberated and rooted. A boomer, he grew up in a postwar era of optimism and economic prosperity, a working-class scholarship boy at Haberdashers’ Aske’s (“we knew how to use the apostrophe”) who went on to a dreamlike Cambridge of punting and Pimm’s. He became a successful advertising executive, was pursued by any number of girls, then found a ruined farmhouse in Suffolk to which, aged 31, he retired. He then teaches, swims, gets involved in the local “faires”, which are like mini East Anglian Glastonburys, befriends Richard Branson and Andrea Arnold, Richard Mabey and Robert Macfarlane. He’s a terrible poet but a beautiful writer of prose, and records his life as if he knows that a book like this will one day be written about it. My work as a cinematographer is a collaborative experience and, at least when a film is successful, the results are seen by a wide audience. On the other hand, I have rarely shared my personal photographs and never as a collection.” – Roger A Deakins

The relationship between film and photography is something I think about often. It’s a question I’ve asked many photographers in interviews like this one: ‘How has film informed your pictures?’ Every time, without fail, they play it down. I can see it’s you,” Deakins recalled Villeneuve saying about the book, meaning that the director recognized the eye behind the images.

As a cinematographer, Deakins looms large: he is, for many movie peoples’ money, the greatest person doing the job today (witness his 15 Oscar nominations, and two wins). But his reputation as a fine-art photographer is far less developed. Not only is Byways his first monograph, it’s also the first place many of these pictures have ever been shared publicly. At his exhibition at the Peter Fetterman Gallery in Santa Monica, he says of that print, “I remember when my brother took me to the fairground where I grew up in Torquay; you could go in and join the boxing — they would call for somebody in the audience to come up and attempt to outbox their main guy. There was a bearded lady, there was the sheep with the two heads and strip shows.” Deakins says, “The moment where social services come along with the police and bust in the apartment and take her away, I think that was hard for Sam, frankly, because that is something that he lived through a number of times with his mother.”

In the older days of movie making with film, the director and others couldn’t view what the cinematographer was capturing, so “dailies” were created. These were the first positive prints from the negative photographed the previous day and viewed by the director, actors, and crew.

Color is a Distraction

Although photography has remained one of Roger’s few hobbies, more often it is an excuse for him to spend hours just walking, his camera over his shoulder, with no particular purpose but to observe. Some of the images in this book, such as those from Rapa Nui, New Zealand and Australia, he took whilst traveling with James. Others are images that caught his eye as walked on a weekend, or catching the last of the light at the end of a day’s filming whilst working on projects in cities such as Berlin or Budapest, on Sicario in New Mexico, Skyfall in Scotland and in England on 1917. In the foreword to the book, you write, ‘The choice of when to take a picture, and which of the resultant images has a future, reveals something of us as individuals. Each of us see differently.’ Do you think someone who knows your film work could see these images and know they were made by you? What are the ‘Deakins-isms’ we might see here? We talked about doing something that is [harsher] without it being unbelievable. We simply thought, ‘Well, she’s been messing with the apartment, so why don’t we just take a shade off her table lamp and use a bare pole?’ When she leans in, getting angry, and she leans towards [fellow theater worker and lover] Stephen, then you get that really harsh light coming up into her face and it almost bleaches her out. It’s just a practical bulb.

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