Walk into an event at the yearly gathering of cinematographers at Poland’s Camerimage Film Festival and you are likely to find Ed Lachman, the unassuming DP with his trademark hat, tucked away in a back corner holding court as a collection of his celebrated colleagues hang on his every word. They aren’t simply there to hear how Lachman created the look of a chemically-tainted light on his most recent film, “Dark Waters” — or one of the dozens of his peers’ “how the hell did Ed do that?” queries — but also how a master like Robby Müller sculpted low light, or Sven Nykvist studied natural light, or Vittorio Storaro manufactured his chiaroscuro light. Lachman serving as a common thread to these three diverse pillars of the craft, each of whom he considers a close mentor, having studied under and worked for them as he learned the craft himself.
Lachman’s knowledge, though, far pre-dates the great European art films of the ’60s and ’70s. His longtime colorist Joe Gawler tells the story of being brought in to supervise Criterion’s remastering of Douglas Sirk’s 1950s technicolor melodramas with Lachman. “It was incredible how Ed knew everything about what they did to shoot these films back in the day,” Gawler told IndieWire. “He’s like a mad scientist, this encyclopedia of film history, lenses, lights filters, technique and practices.”
In his own practice as a cinematographer, Lachman has used this knowledge to enrich his palette. Whether it’s recreating the manufactured studio look of Douglas Sirk’s ’50s Universal melodramas while shooting on real locations (“Far From Heaven”), or shooting an entire film so it looks like a mid-century Saul Leiter color photograph (“Carol”), or producing images that look like ’70s stock footage of New York while using our modern grainless film stocks (“Wonderstruck”), Lachman takes a forensic approach to adapt a look and recreate the tools of the past. It’s been an extremely influential approach that more than anything has helped steer today’s period movies away from the tea-stained filtering being put between the modern viewer and stories of the past.
Yet it’s a mistake to reduce Lachman’s cinematography to his virtuoso recreation of period style — for Lachman it is always about the ideas behind the images, the way cinematic language of different eras can mirror society and the culture of the time. It’s for this reason that in his …read more