Rachel Morrison made history this year by becoming the first woman to be nominated for the best cinematography Oscar, for her raw, immersive work on Dee Rees’ Mudbound (2017). But that stellar achievement is something of a double-edged sword. It’s possible to be thrilled by her success – which can be also be measured by her expansive work on this year’s Black Panther and visceral approach to Daniel Barnz’ Cake (2014) – while also remaining frustrated that she’s the first woman to be so honoured by the Academy and that gender representation across all industry sectors remains so shameful.
While the statistics are enduringly disheartening, women have been working tirelessly behind the camera since the earliest days of movies. So perhaps it’s time to replace that lament of ‘Where are the women?’ with a battle cry of ‘Here are the women’, to recognise and celebrate inclusivity where it exists, and to demand more of it.
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To that end, here are just a few talented cinematographers at work today, all of whom happen to be women and all of whom are defined by their craft, not their gender.
It may come as a surprise that the cinematographer responsible for the muddy, small-town Americana feel of Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler (2008) is French, but DP Maryse Alberti has a truly impressive range behind the camera. In a prolific career, she has also provided the gaudy hues of Velvet Goldmine (1998) and the bruised tones of Creed: The Rocky Legacy (2015), and her creeping camerawork can be credited for providing most of the scares in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit (2015). Most recently, she shot Ted Kennedy biopic Chappaquiddick for John Curran.
Credits include: Velvet Goldmine, The Wrestler, Creed, Chappaquiddick
Having built up her career shooting short films, including Louise Marie Cook’s atmospheric Siren, nominated for best cinematography at the 2015 Underwire Festival, Laura Bellingham made her feature DP debut with 2017 horror comedy Double Date. Working in shadows and light, Bellingham’s camera captures both the dark gore and knockabout comedy of this tale of two hapless blokes embroiled with a pair of serial-killing femme fatales; a climactic, extended fight sequence is a masterclass in carefully choreographed camerawork. Next up for Bellingham are several shorts and dystopian thriller Zero.
Credits include: Double Date, Zero
Argentinian DP Natasha Braier most recently shot Nicolas Winding Refn’s garish thriller The Neon Demon (2016), her overwhelming visuals and amplified colour heightening the story of a young woman being consumed by Los Angeles’ superficial modelling scene. It’s a world away from her previous film, David Michod’s The Rover (2014), which, set 10 years after a global collapse, utilised dusty expanses of landscape and rural isolation to underscore its dystopian themes. Next up for Braier is Sebastián Lelio’s American remake of his own 2013 Chilean drama Gloria, now starring Julianne Moore.
Credits include: Chinese Puzzle, The Rover, The Neon Demon
Charlotte Bruus Christensen
The relaxed, fluid approach of Danish-born Charlotte Bruus Christensen has been showcased in some of the most exciting films of recent years. In 2012’s The Hunt, her claustrophobic framing augmented Mads Mikkelsen’s small-town nightmare as a father wrongly accused of a heinous crime. She brought a languid, ambiguous tension to Tate Taylor’s The Girl on the Train (2016), her evocative, woozy camerawork underscoring the unreliability of Emily Blunt’s alcoholic protagonist. In contrast, her sharp, snappy visuals contributed to the fast pace of Aaron Sorkin’s twisting talker Molly’s Game (2017). Christensen will be bringing some shadowy tension to John Krasinski’s directorial debut, horror film A Quiet Place.
Credits include: The Hunt, Fences, Molly’s Game, The Girl on the Train, A Quiet Place
French-born Agnès Godard’s long-time collaboration with filmmaker Claire Denis has resulted in some truly memorable aesthetics – think of Beau Travail (1999), the camera sticking close to Foreign Legion troops in Africa as they scurry through the mud, juxtaposed against the beautiful, peaceful scenery. In their latest work, Let the Sunshine In, Godard brings a radiant luminescence to Juliette Binoche’s divorcee, whose search for true love plays out in languorous, softly-focused long takes. Godard has also brought her unique sensibility to the work of other filmmakers: in Carol Morley’s The Falling (2014), for example, her hallucinatory, dreamlike visuals capture the otherworldliness of the boarding school location.
Credits include: Beau Travail, 35 Shots of Rum, The Falling
With a resume that spans documentary, shorts, TV and features, American DP Kira Kelly is something of a chameleon behind the camera. Her work on Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated documentary 13th (2016), which she shared with co-DP Hans Charles, is a particular standout; sensitively framing talking-head interviewees in front of expansive, beautiful backgrounds – windows full of trees, ornate artworks – highlights the huge themes being discussed. She is collaborating with DuVernay again on the second season of TV show Queen Sugar, where her natural, free-form composition reflects the evolving experiences of the Louisiana siblings at the heart of the story and the stunning rural landscape in which it is set.
Credits include: 13th, Queen Sugar, Skin in the Game
After two features in Central America (Minotauro; The Wind and the Water), UK-based cinematographer Petra Korner’s third feature as DP was Jonathan Levine’s 2008 comedy The Wackness. Her evocative camerawork captured the exuberance of 1990s New York and the isolation of its central dope-smoking teen protagonist. Since then, Korner has worked on genre projects including Gregor Jordan’s frenetic adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel The Informers (2008) and the Wes Craven thriller My Soul to Take (2010), as well as on Prashant Nair’s Sundance Audience Award winner Umrika (2015). Korner’s work will next be seen in forthcoming Joe Chappelle political drama The Pages and episodes of hotly anticipated British TV series A Discovery of Witches.
Credits include: The Wackness, My Soul to Take, The Informers, Umrika
Over her almost 30-year career, American cinematographer Ellen Kuras has worked on some modern classics. She brought a grungy, oppressive aesthetic to Summer of Sam (1999), capturing the fear of 1970s New York in the grip of a serial killer, and, at the opposite end of the visual spectrum, a dream-like quality to Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and a nostalgic energy to Gondry’s 2008 comedy Be Kind Rewind. Kuras shot Alan Rickman’s 2014 period drama A Little Chaos in the vivid, lush tones and formal portraiture befitting its Palace of Versailles setting. Recently, she lent Errol Morris documentary series Wormwood its dark, beguiling tone.
Credits include: Summer of Sam, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Wormwood
A director in her own right, her latest project I Think We’re Alone Now having won this year’s Sundance Special Jury Prize, Reed Morano is also a master cinematographer. In Courtney Hunt’s Frozen River (2008), Morano’s blanched visuals brought home the isolation and desperation faced by two single mothers struggling to survive in the wilds of upstate New York. In John Krokidas’s beat poet narrative Kill Your Darlings (2013), the look was by turns intimate and euphoric, speaking to the film’s sense of nostalgia and drug-fuelled abandonment. Morano has brought that same sensory approach to episodes of TV dramas, including The Handmaid’s Tale (2017), and several of her own films, including I Think We’re Alone Now.
Credits include: Kill Your Darlings, Looking, Vinyl, The Handmaid’s Tale
London-born Polly Morgan has been making her mark on the international stage, most recently shooting several episodes of the fractured, frenetic sci-fi show Legion and lensing thriller Spinning Man (2018), whose stunning Californian vistas hide some dark secrets, for Swedish director Simon Kaijser. Morgan previously created nightmarish visuals for Jonathan Hopkins’ horror Slumber (2017) and provided the intimate, intense look for Clea DuVall’s relationship drama The Intervention (2016), the relaxed aesthetic giving way to sharper angles and deeper shadows as the story evolves and motivations are revealed.
Credits include: Legion, The Intervention, Spinning Man
Documentary is a genre often overlooked in discussions about the craft of cinematography, but the right visual tone is equally as essential in conveying the themes and emotions of a real-life story. Iris Ng’s work on Making a Murderer (2015), which included additional aerial and time-lapse photography, certainly contributed to the powerful resonance of that multipart case of wrongful accusation. She has also brought her sensitive approach to other docs, including Min Sook Lee’s Migrant Dreams (2016) and Sandi Tan’s Sundance winner Shirkers (2018).
Credits include: Making a Murderer, Migrant Dreams, Shirkers
Just as Katie Holmes’ raw, honest performance as a familial black sheep was a highlight of Peter Hedges’ Oscar-nominated drama Pieces of April (2003), so Tami Reiker’s use of handheld mini DV camerawork gave the film a weary, lived-in look that was one of its major draws. A similar handheld approach also gave Gina Prince-Bythewood’s 2014 drama Beyond the Lights a sense of energy and realism, which underscores its themes of fame and celebrity. Elsewhere, Riker imbued the pilot episode of HBO series Carnivàle (2003-05) with the dusty, magic-hour aesthetic that would go on to become its visual trademark, and recently worked on TV procedural Shots Fired (2017).
Credits include: Pieces of April, Beyond the Lights, Carnivàle
As the DP on some of the most interesting British films of recent years, Nanu Segal has brought her intense, evocative visual style to a range of stories, from the extremes of genre scares to the extremes of social realism. In Oliver Blackburn’s Donkey Punch (2008), for example, she effectively utilises the main setting of a luxury yacht to heighten the sense of entrapment as a group of young people struggle to deal with a nightmarish accident. And Segal’s sensitive lensing of Hope Dickson Leach’s debut The Levelling (2016) imparts the individual isolation of the lead character as she unwillingly returns to help out on her family farm; here wide shots of the Somerset flats are oppressive rather than beautiful.
Credits include: Donkey Punch, The Children, The Levelling, An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn
In 2013 indie Free Ride, in which Anna Paquin tries to make a new life for herself and two young daughters in 1970s Florida, Quyen Tran’s evocative period visuals capture both the hazy hues of the Sunshine State and the darker elements of a life of drug smuggling. Tran also applied this dual, fractured approach to frame off-kilter thriller Pali Road (2015), in which a young female doctor wakes from a coma to find herself in a different life. Upcoming projects include dramas Life in a Year, starring Cara Delevingne and Jaden Smith, and Behold My Heart, with Marisa Tomei and Charlie Plummer.
Credits include: Free Ride, Pali Road, Behold My Heart
Australian DP Mandy Walker has lensed films both in her homeland, including lending Ray Lawrence’s thriller Lantana (2001) its shadowy suburban familiarity and John Curran’s road movie Tracks (2013) its expansive Western Australian vistas, as well as overseas. In recent years, Walker combined nostalgic tones with an energetic modern sensibility in both CBS exposé Truth (2015) and 1960s NASA drama Hidden Figures (2016). After capturing the deadly beauty of Utah’s High Uintas Wilderness (actually filmed in British Columbia) in last year’s The Mountain between Us, Walker will next be shooting Disney’s live-action Mulan.
Credits include: Tracks, Jane Got a Gun, Hidden Figures, The Mountain between Us, Mulan
Having most recently shot William Oldroyd’s visceral, haunting debut Lady Macbeth (2016), in which she so effectively used the windswept, rural vistas of Northumberland to reflect the dangerous beauty of its eponymous heroine, Australian-born Ari Wegner has since turned her attention to the small screen, lensing episodes of The Girlfriend Experience. A return to features beckons, however, with DP duties on Peter Strickland’s forthcoming ghost story In Fabric, which follows a dress that has been cursed by an evil spirit.
Credits include: Lady Macbeth, The Girlfriend Experience (TV), In Fabric
Emerging American cinematographer Zoe White has show herself to be a master of the raw, intimate approach. Her unflinching, almost guerilla style of filmmaking, honed on a plethora of shorts, underpinned Onur Tukel’s surprising Catfight (2016), which saw Sandra Oh and Anne Heche as longtime rivals whose animosity spills over into violence. White’s no-nonsense visuals also work well in coming of age romance Princess Cyd (2017), and help to ground the fanciful narrative of Christina Choe’s psychological character study Nancy (2018). She’s currently shooting the new season of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Credits include: Catfight, Princess Cyd, The Misogynists, Nancy