On The Rise -- Cinematographers in 2014

In what’s become an annual tradition, this week we’re kicking off our On The Rise series of features in which we take a look at emerging and blossoming talent across a variety of fields. This year, we’re expanding our remit to encompass a couple more categories and subcategories, but we’re starting with a perennial favorite: cinematographers.

Perhaps there’s no single field of filmmaking that has been as impacted by the advent of digital than cinematography—it is, after all, one of the crew positions that most marries aesthetic and artistic talent with technical and technological know-how, so a fundamental change in that technology has profound effects. But one of those effects, if we’re to generalize, has been to open up the field at the lower budget, independent end, to experimentation and potential discovery that might have been too costly and too risky to attempt in previous decades. As a result, for all the doomsaying about the death of film and its impact on the aesthetics of filmmaking, for our money we’re seeing a blossoming of photographic talent that digital technology has liberated. And indeed, a new lease on life for some veteran cinematographers too.

Which is not to say that everyone featured below works exclusively in digital photography, just that it has provided a new avenue into the industry/up the ladder for some undeniably bright talents. In previous years we’ve featured the likes of Ben Richardson, Bradford Young, Robbie Ryan, Rachel Morrison and Mihai Malamaire Jr. as likely successors and future peers of the greats like Lubezki, Deakins, Kaminski, Doyle et al, but this time we're expanding the selection to ten so we can work off a slightly broader, more international base (here's our 2013 DPs list). Here are the ten-plus cinematographers, some new, some overdue our attention, some only recently making waves this side of whichever pond, who have caught our eye(s) over the last 12 months, and who we're anxious to see more from in future.

Daniel Landin - Under The Skin

Daniel Landin
Going from shooting experimental art films to a Scarlett Johansson movie isn't your average path, but when that Scarlett Johansson film is Jonathan Glazer's hypnotic, haunting "Under The Skin," which Daniel Landin was the cinematographer for, it feels like an appropriate one. Landin started working with video as a teenager in collaboration with band Throbbing Gristle, before co-founding a militantly experimental performance group in the late 1970s, and attending art school in the mid-1980s.

Landin began working as a cinematographer in the early '90s, and soon became a much-in-demand DP in the commercials and promo world--his credits included work with directors including Roman Coppola and John Hillcoat, and artists including Oasis and Bjork, while also beginning a long-term collaboration with fashion designer Alexander McQueen, for whom Landin served as lighting designer for his fashion shows until McQueen's death in 2010. Landin started to work with Glazer on commercials and a music video for Richard Ashcroft, and when original cinematographer Ivan Bird was unavailable, he even shot a day of additional photography on Glazer's directorial debut "Sexy Beast." At long last, Landin made his feature debut as a cinematographer in the inauspicious surroundings of "Sixty Six," a cosy 2006 British comedy starring Eddie Marsan and Helena Bonham-Carter, and more work followed, including the horror remake "The Uninvited," and gangster thriller "44 Inch Chest," both handsome, but not star-making stuff, exactly.

But "Under The Skin" was something else: Landin had been preparing with Glazer for nearly two years before the shoot, and the results speak for themselves. Whether filming incognito with Johansson on the streets of Glasgow with an almost verite feel (including subtly relighting a nightclub so they could film there without anyone noticing), to the nightmarish imagery of Johansson's inner sanctum, it's phenomenal work throughout. Landin's use of darkness, both in the near-performance-art blackness and in Gordon Willis-style twilight, is especially unforgettable. Right now, Landin doesn't seem to have another feature lined up, but fingers crossed that means that him and Glazer are plotting something new.

Hong Kyung-pyo, Snowpiercer

Hong Kyung-pyo
Also sometimes Hong Kyeong-pyo, Hong Gyeong-pyo or Alex Hong
Coming from the singular vision of Bong Joon-ho, “Snowpiercer” presented a very specific set of challenges for its cinematographer. But the narrative strictures (shooting in the tight, linear space of a train carriage nearly the whole time) and the technical constraints (everything was shot in a studio; a great deal of work was to be done to many of the shots in post-production) somehow didn’t hamper DP Hong Kyung-pyo from delivering textured, evocative and often quite beautiful photography (in that ground-in grimy, gunmetal kind of way).

Hong is hardly new on the scene in Korea—he has 20-odd credits over the last decade and a half, including a prior relationship with Bong from his brilliantly nasty 2009 film “Mother.” And prior to that even, Hong had firmly established himself in the prolific and exciting Korean film industry by 2004 (here’s our starter-pack feature on Korean New Wave cinema, if you’re curious) when he attained a great deal of local success (and a few awards) as cinematographer on the epic “The Brotherhood of War,” which had been the most successful Korean film of all time to that point. But ‘Brotherhood’ is a handsome, almost lush period drama, and “Mother” a gritty, unglamorized thriller (which recently did a reverse-"Nebraska," being reissued in black and white). So while both films look good in their own specific registers, there’s not a lot of precedent there for the stylized-but-lived-in, high-contrast, dystopian look of “Snowpiercer,” let alone the clever way of framing and fluid camera movement, so that while we understand the geography of these confined spaces, we don’t feel claustrophobic.

Hong is also clearly adept at understanding when to shoot for CG elements and when to use practical, in-camera effects: he insisted, according to Bong, that the torch that Ewan Bremner carries is real fire and that no electric light be used for that iconic sequence, but it was also Hong who filtered light through trays of water to give the aquarium carriage CG artists practical lighting effects to work with. “Snowpiercer,” from what we know of Hong’s previous work, seems to truly add an impressive new string to the DP’s bow, and if there’s any justice, its international success will bring him international recognition too. Whatever the case, we hope he works with Bong again soon, because something special always seems to result.