Tag Archives: Cardiff

Jack Cardiff


Jack Cardiff (OBE, BSC) 1914 – 2009.

Jack Cardiff is a personal hero of mine and I would recommend anyone interested in photography or film making to make a point to get to know his work.

Cardiff, began as a child actor with his parents in music hall and silent films and at 15 became a camera assistant and with in introduction of sound became the clapper boy.  In 1935 he moved to behind the movie camera and when Technicolor came to England he put himself forward to be trained as the operator of the first Technicolor camera in England.  He recalls that when interviewed he confessed that he hadn’t read the manual for the new camera and was asked frankly how he imagined how he was going to get on in the business?  He answered , “Well I am an amateur artist and I like to study the old masters and copy their works to understand how the light and compose.”  He was then asked from which side did Rembrandt light his subjects?  To which Cardiff panicked and guessed.  he guessed right and the following day he was told that he was to be the first and only British camera man to be trained to operate the new Technicolor camera.  In Cardiff’s long carrier he was privileged to film many of both British and American epics / classics.  To name a few: Knight without Armour, A matter of life and death, The red shoes, Black Narcissus, African Queen, Sons and Lovers, Death on the Nile, Rambo: First blood, part II, etc.

Cardiff photographed every British and American film-star  from the 1930 until the 21st centaury with many great stars asking for him.

In the 1960’s he turned his hand to directing and his first film Sons and Lovers won an Oscar.  Cardiff recalls that on meeting  Hitchcock at the awards, Hitchcock could not conceal his surprise that a mere cameraman could not only successfully direct a film but also an Oscar winning film.

Cardiff was awarded an Oscar in 1947 for ‘Black Narcissus’ for his photography.  Check the movie out see if you can guess which of the ‘Masters’ in oil painting influenced how he photographed some of these scenes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZRzcLK1Ar0

In 1995 The Society for Cinimagraphers conferred a lifetime achievement award to him, in 200o he was awarded an OBE, in 2001 he was awarded an honorary Oscar for his contribution to the cinema.

Also check out the documentary on the life of Jack Cardiff you will be surprised at some of the films this guy made and the list of movie stars and directors that proudly called him friend.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGLqNjrtsmg

Research point – What difference does colour make to a genre that traditionally was predominantly black and white?

The medium of photography began with the development of the monochrome / black and white image and for decades photographers honed their skills learning how to work with a very limited pallet of only shades of grey.  However, photographers quickly realized that black and white could produce stunning images and could exaggerate a sense of atmosphere that normal colour vision could not.  The portraits of the Hollywood stars of the 30’s and 40’s are a good illustration on the power of black and white.

When colour photography first came in to being it was a costly process and did not really take off until the cost of film and development fell in the late 1950’s.  At this time established photographers were reluctant to start working in the new medium.  I suggest that this was partly due to being nervous about moving out of a familiar and tried and tested photographic field in to a new area that was also gaining a reputation for amateur ‘snappers’.  Professionals with reputations may have found this intimidating and threatening and at that time colour theory was still a mystery kept and only practised by the painters in the art world.  However, in the film industry colour had been in regular use since the late 1930’s and interestingly one of the great pioneers of colour film photography was a keen painter who enjoyed making copies of famous masters for his home and to understand how they were made.  I refer to the British cameraman and film director Jack Cardiff who was the first British cameraman trained to operate the Technicolor movie cameras.  I would recommend watching some of Cardiff’s films of the 1940’s to see some good examples of how Cardiff understood both lighting and colour: ‘The Red Shoes’, ‘Black Narcissus’, A ‘Matter of Life and Death’ to name just a few.

William Eggleston has been credited as the photographer who made colour photography excepted in the photographic world of fine art when John Szarkowski, )Director of Photography of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City) discovered him and his work.

Black and white works to simplify an image creating a sense of past tense something that happened, an event, a ‘moment’.

Colour adds a new dynamic, if used well, it can add impact, by using colour theory and with the right combination on colours an interesting composition can be created from something ordinary and bland.  We see in colour; and strong colours have impact on our senses and with this in mind, interesting and attention grabbing photographs can be found.