I realize that we were supposed to write about photographer, but I thought that I would being able to relate more to something that I’m more interested in and the concepts are similar, at least in my humble opinion.
Italian cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro, is the mastermind behind the powerful visuals of such films as Last Tango in Paris, Apocalypse Now, and The Last Emperor. His award winning approach to photography is based on a sophisticated philosophy inspired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s theory of colors. This theory centers around the psychological affect of certain colors on the viewer. Vittorio Storaro is tied as the most decorated director of photography in motion picture history. He has won three Academy Awards for cinematography and is the youngest recipient of the American Society of Cinematographer’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He also created the “Univision” film system, a 35mm format with a 2:1 aspect ratio. While he has collaborated with a number of directors over many years, such as Francis Ford Coppola, Warren Beatty, and Dario Argento, his most frequent collaborator is Bernardo Bertolucci.
What makes him unique, at least in his time, was his heavy use of light and shadow. Unlike many film noir lighting that had come before, that used shadows to keep the viewer in suspense of what they could not see, Vittorio would use shadows to illuminate the duality and to heavily contrast the intense sources of light. Another commonly used technique is crafting overlapping images that add depth of meaning as to how the subjects of these frames relate to one another.
Saturation of light and dark, sometimes in the same image is a common theme throughout Vittorio’s career. Most people are familiar with the use of shadow in Apocalypse Now to keep Marlon Brando’s presence from being completely revealed, but just as telling as the shadow is how saturated the light and detail the light brings out. By having a strong contrast of both sources of light and darkness, there is a much stronger emotional impact of the image. In line with his philosophy of color, he used natural and artificial lighting to contrast the combating cultures throughout the film. Moreover, in certain projects he focuses on one aspect of the color spectrum to enhance the mood of the action playing out on the screen. Of the infamous shoot, he believes it was a pivotal moment in his life, revealing his desire to “write with light.”
There is also a very strong sense of proportion, evenness and color, especially in his work with Bertolucci. Rather than playing with focus, Vittorio uses more wide angles to keep the entire frame in focus, but uses lighting and color to focus our attention. Another interesting aspect is how much of a centrist he is with his main characters, but with this depth, this is an overwhelming or envelopment of their surroundings. Each element in that environment is individually lit so that you can have the foreground backlit and still have the center of the frame be over, while the left and right fields might be covered in shadow. The source of lighting is never naturalistic but artificial in its creation of character’s plight and moral composition.