Technology, Creativity and the Art of Cinematography

by Yuri Neyman, ASC

Images can be “good” and “bad” independently of how and by what means they been created. All depends who created it. What makes pictures good or bad is the subject of a different discussion, but today we will talk about the role and value of technology in cinematography in general and in the art of cinematography in particular. There are few different approaches to this issue existing today.

Many groups evaluate technology in cinematography differently cinematographers, videographers, vendors, critics, journalists, members of selection committees and festival juries and general spectators / audience all have a different point of view and angle of observation.
The user of technology must take into consideration how the technical innovation, new tool or gadget can be used for the advance of technical or artistic ideas. These new ideas are what create unique responses that comment on the art and evolution of cinematography.
In cinematography solely dedicated to pure registration, science or documentation - the role of technology is paramount. In those cases, the goal is the maximum “correctness” in the visualization of reality and often the photographed subject. 

SUNRISE

For the very fast growing “army” of amateur cinematographers using not so sophisticated consumer cameras, typically without use of manual controls & settings, the goal is essentially the same to register events around them with maximum realism. They like using technology and will use it as soon the technology allows them to easily and simply record events with life-like consistency.

Another group of professionals or semi-professionals who work in or around the Industry see technology as an end in itself. Discussions center exclusively on the technical issues without any or very little attention to question of what was photographed or/and why it was done in the certain manner or style.
But for those cinematographers for whom photographed images are not only the job, but the means of expression of their point of view on the particular situation or character (scripted or not), the technology is not “an end in itself ”, but a tool and a tool only.

The goal of those cinematographers is not only to record reality in the front of the lens, and make this image a reality as a substitute for the final objective of their work, but instead to “open and discover ” concepts, themes and ideas through images by means of characters, objects, phenomenon and their connections, in other words, to create visual metaphors and symbols.

In this case the task of cinematography is not copying of reality, but artistic visual interpretation. And we can see on these samples of “highlights” of artistic cinematography, such classics as: “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” (1927) (Dir: F.W. Murnau, DP: Charles Rosher, ASC and Karl Struss, ASC) First Oscar Winner for “Best Cinematography”; “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) (Dir: Stanley Kubrick, DP: Geoffrey Unsworth, BSC) Oscar Winner for “Best Visual Effects”, BAFTA Winner for “Best Cinematography”; “Gravity” (2013) (Dir: Alfonso Cuaron, DP: Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC) Oscar Winner for “Best Cinematography” and “Best Visual Effects”.

2001-a-space-odysseyThe technology behind those high achievements cannot have the primary role. The talent, artistic individuality and point of view among many others, not necessarily related to technical dexterity, play the dominant role.
One world known cinematographer said once that if it would be technically possible, he would create great images on wallpaper or on laces of his own shoes.

For audience, critics and many others, even among the professional spectators, the decisive role in the evaluation of the images plays not through any technical device or “unusual” trick”, but the final result, i.e. artistic and thus emotional impact.
“The most sophisticated camera, lens and technology cannot save from the scarcity of thoughts, the lack of imagination, from the inability to find individual ways of visual expression”, wrote the historian of photography G.S. Drukoff. This also relates to younger sister of photography - cinematography.
Great images in classical films did not arise because of technical achievements that played role in the images creation. Revaluation or underestimation and ignoring the technical part of image creation are erroneous and dangerous. Understanding your tools as second nature, just as a carpenter or mechanic, allows for more for creative freedom in the image making process.

Gravity-2013-Photos

Technology always been and will continue to be at the service of creative visual concepts and ideas. Technology without the creative impact loses the human content and therefore the essence of the art of cinematography.
It is absolutely possible to create great images with any camera and this camera might not always be the latest model, but if ideas of cinematographer are complex and the artistic aim is very high, then properly technically educated and artistically enlightened cinematographers always will find the proper tools for his or her visual ideas.

And then Technology and Creativity will create the one and only connection: Technology For Creativity.

Learn more about "Expanded Cinematography" and how GCI is teaching the new visual art forms effecting cinematography - Next session of Level 1 Classes begins September 6th - Click Here for more information