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The tension between cinematography as a storytelling utility and a flashy, self-expressive art. (1 reply)

3 months ago
nelsonryk 3 months ago

Hello Roger, 

As someone working in the field of communication design (or graphic design, visual communication, whatever other title you may know it as), it’s always seemed to me that cinematography is strikingly similar to communication design. How I mean is that both communication design and cinematography are not “art” in the sense that they are practices that do not thrive on self-expression, but are rather driven by purpose; essentially serving as a utility more than art in the end. The ultimate goal of both graphic design and cinematography is to communicate something to people. This communication obviously has a symbiotic relationship with visual beauty in both cases, but nevertheless the primary goal is communication rather than beauty. 

Many of the people I take on as clients do not understand this about communication design, and I imagine there are times when you’ve worked with, or at the very least been approached by people who do not understand this part of cinematography either. Often times clients will instruct me with phrases along the lines of “make it look cool” rather than wanting to most efficiently communicate their information. 

Do you ever find that there is a tension in your position between people wanting you to make your choices based on what “looks cool” and what actually accomplishes telling the story the best? 

Roger Deakins
3 months ago
Roger Deakins 3 months ago

Personally, I don't like the term 'art' and I have never been asked to 'make it look cool'. Perhaps, if I shot commercials that would be different. For me, any visual medium, whether film, photography or painting, is primarily about communication. On the other hand, to say that this leaves no place in a cinematographer's work for self expression doesn't make much sense of my life to date! I guess much depends on what you are trying to communicate.

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