Diane Tammes worked as a photographer with her own studio in Edinburgh before joining the second intake at the National Film School from 1971 to 1976. She specialised in cinematography, graduating as the first woman in the UK to be accredited by the union, the ACTT. She worked with documentary 16mm projects (such as Disappearing World), easily making the transition to the more experimental modes of 16mm cinematography that had been adopted by avant-garde movements (primarily in the US and the UK) during the 1960s and 1970s.
It is hard to overestimate Diane’s contribution to Riddles of the Sphinx (1977). Peter and I had decided that the central section of the film (Louise’s story) should consist of 13 tableaux, each formed by a 360-degree pan. It was Diane’s combination of knowledge, ingenuity and imagination that enabled this aesthetic strategy to be realised in practice. She shot with an Éclair NPR, which had been developed as a hand-held camera but adapted well to the needs of Riddles of the Sphinx. It was mounted on a geared Moy head, equipped with both a pan and a tilt handle; we would establish the angle of the shot and then lock off the tilt. We used a fixed lens and a slow negative to reduce grain and saturate the colours.
The camera had to move at a steady pace, regardless of the movements of people or things in front of it. We built a wooden platform around the camera and Diane developed a gliding movement, swinging her hips slowly from side to side, building a rhythm that would help her sustain her pace. At the same time, her upper body had to be held steady, with her eye fixed to the eyepiece to exclude any light seepage that might fog the film. Each shot she divided into quarters, each quarter divided into minutes so that she would know that she was at the right place at the right time.
Looking back she has said: “Any operator would have found this challenging, because it required great skill to work around the platform, without the eye coming away from the eyepiece, to keep the pace going, to think of what the next section required… and not to fall over.” In Shot 12 Diane can be seen reflected in a mirror as she operates the camera, and something of the difficulty of the process can be gauged. Shot 7 was particularly complicated: Diane and the camera were on an Octopus dolly that circled on its own axis while being driven around the roundabout on the back of a Minimoke and thus creating a double 360-degree pan.
Diane worked with us on all but one of our later films. She went on to be a BAFTA award-winning cinematographer and later directed her own documentary films.