It is common for a purely technical profile to appear to overlap the artistic character of the director of photography, but, like the art director, his/her area of activity is aimed at the design of the image and, in the case of cinema, the moving image. Certainly the technical details influence his/her work, but they are instruments whose purpose is to achieve the light and the idealized shots for the film. Thus, understanding the dynamics of light and framing becomes its object of study, and it is common for such professionals to dwell on the works of painters such as Vermeer, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, da Vinci, Velazquez, Delacroix, Monet, Degas, Hopper etc., trying to understand how these artists saw the "scenes" and how they represented them in their paintings: the arrangement of objects, the way that the light strikes the space, the light and dark zones, the arrangement of colors, the internal relations established by perspective and the balance of composition in relation to the point of view of the reader/spectator.
Thus, the director of photography is responsible for capturing, filling, punctuating, emphasizing and composing the viewing angles by which the spectator will contemplate the reality presented and represented by and in the film. His/her way of dealing with the information contained in the script and transmitted by the filmmaker is through the combination of the choice of shots, camera movements, the play of lenses and sensitive materials, and the arrangement and organization of intensity, direction, and nature of the lights to be used in each scene and / or framing.
He/she is a visual designer, and his/her work is closely connected to that of the art direction. So to discover, develop and structure the best way to convey the actions, environments, desires of the characters and the director's goals in each scene and in relation to the discourse adopted as a whole in the film, extracting not only what is on the surface, but to what lies between the lines, in the subtext of an exchange of dialogues, in the veiled intentions of each character, in the uncertain and oblique paths of an exchange of glances, in the dubious or logical unfoldings of a narrative. Only by the way of conceiving and composing the frames, the lighting, the camera movements and the set of lenses to be used in the film, shows exactly the function of this professional throughout the film production.
Shaping the photograph of a film is to observe and understand the interrelationships between what happens on the mise-en-scene and also on the narrative as a whole, for knowing the importance of each scene and to where the film moves in terms of dramatic intensity is part of its field of activity. As a designer, the photographer composes in line with the content of the reality represented or presented and the way that the director wishes to approach it. This means that what is described by the verbal language in the script becomes the starting point for the photographer who has to translate into images the idea impregnated inside the scene, the film and / or what is the idea that is searched by the filmmaker. Cinematography, therefore, is more than an image (BROWN, 2002, p. 30), transcends the desired aesthetic ideal and reverberates the information and concepts that underlie the film.
The complexity found in this process occurs because all the subsystems – art direction, acting, script, production design, direction etc. – involved in the construction of the film intersect and complement each other, aiming at the axis of action of the camera, that is, everything is designed to be captured and recorded by the camera. Therefore, the direction of photography is a game of interrelations in motion: light that focuses on space, objects, and staging and these are captured by the camera, which in turn is positioned, displaced and articulated in line with the material ahead. On the other hand, this articulation in motion still takes into account the nexuses that each plane has between itself or not, and with the narrative as a whole.
Still immersed in these interrelationships, there are many technical details attached to the camera itself, such as aperture of the diaphragm, type and quality of the sensitive material to be used, film speed (ISO or ASA), choice of lenses - wide angle, tele or normal - use of tools and / or devices for camera movements such as crane, traveling, dolly, steadycam, for example, and a range of resources to be used in the organization of lighting such as jellies, diffusers, hitters, reflectors etc. As Edgar Moura (1998, 78) explains, in cinematography "(...) the effects are always cumulative".
On the other hand, the cinematographer, despite all the attention to each shot and every scene, enjoys moments when he/she realizes that the cinematography brings incredible degrees of vividness, subtlety, freedom and inexpressible richness, for the way in which the mise-en-scene takes place in front of the shots and camera movements, is often of incredible beauty. Seeing, capturing, and accompanying such performances enveloped in distinct and disparate dramatic intensities, full of information, from the most subtle to the most profound and wide open, being transmitted / translated into moving image, usually leads to philosophizing about life (see MOURA, 1998, p.20).
It is common in lectures that these practitioners resort to high doses of theories - from Heraclitus to Freud - and from routine personal experiences, rather than complicated technical explanations. This is because the cinemagrapher's job is to perceive what no one perceives, to see and catch the nuances, peculiarities and singularities of what is ahead of him/her. And this, no matter how hard you try, no technical cinematography manual teaches.
From the filmmaker's point of view, the cinematographer plays a key role in his/her process of consolidating a career / style, because he/she is a co-author of his/her cinematic poetics. This bond, between filmmaker and cinematographer, is established in the moment that they realize that the film/work becomes something bigger because of the associations, collaborations and mutual adjustments on their performances, therefore, they are ecodependent. This ecodependent environment brings them their creative autonomy in relation to the film (s) and in relation to their professional life in future projects, as a team.
The film production implies the integration and interaction of a set of specialized agents in areas where, in other arts, they appear as dominant, but in the case of cinema, they are co-participants. The fact that the filmmaker makes the crucial decisions in the film making does not take out the co-authorship of the other agents involved with the film production. By following this perspective, what is observed is that these interactions (MORIN, 2008, p.105) that compose and shape a film's realization are configured as systemic, this is a set of semiotic agents with specific functions that interact towards the final attempt: to complish the work.
This ecological action, in which each member influences the creative work of the other in an ecodependent dialog, alerts us to the fact that the film production occurs in a complex and systemic environment. Thus, when this collaborative process emerges and evolves in a positive way, it is a two-way path guided by an empathy that renews itself, retroacts, permeates and surges throughout the phases of pre-production, production / shooting and post-production. This empathy allows competencies to enter into a stream of complementarity, that is, into a synergy of meaning.
However, such a work environment is not something simple to find or promote, because it depends on all the parties involved by exercising their tolerances, sharings, concessions and affinities. That is why when a director 'finds' a team whose members share the same synergy, this team remains with the filmmaker throughout his/her career and / or for many films, that is because it is the team that allows 'his/her-their' and also 'their-his/her' poetics and style. The filmmaker never walks alone, his/her style flourish through and among his/her team.
BROWN, Blain. Cinemetography: Theory and Practice. Image making for cinematographers, directors and videographers. Oxford: Focal Press, 2002.
MERCADO, Gustavo. The Filmmaker’s Eye. Oxford: Elsevier, 2011.
MORIN, Edgar. O Método 1 – a natureza da natureza. Porto Alegre: Editora Sulina, 2008.
MOURA, Edgar. 50 anos luz, câmera e ação. São Paulo: Editora Senac, 1999.