Roger Deakins is considered one of the most important of contemporary cinematographic masters behind the camera. The list of honours he has received is long: sixteen Oscar nominations with two wins: one for the 2018 filming of Blade Runner, and another for 1917 in 2020. He has given light and colour to dozens of Hollywood films, and is an irreplaceable partner for directors such as the Coen Brothers, Sam Mendes or Denis Villeneuve. The fact that, in addition to his film work, Deakins has a weakness for black and white photography taken with Leica cameras, is something very few people knew till now. His first photo book, Byways, which was published by Damiani Editore two years ago, shows a collection of unpublished-to-date photographs taken over many decades, and has further expanded his fan circle. The pictures were taken in England and while travelling, alongside his worldwide film productions. The monograph of black and white photographs reveals a new dimension to his visual perception. Once again, his ironic and unique perspective of the world is on display. The corresponding exhibition is now being presented at the Leica Gallery Los Angeles.
What role has photography played in your career?
I love finding images. I am not a still photographer, and I won’t pretend to be one at this stage in my career. I have spent almost half a century enjoying my life as a cinematographer, during which time I have photographed both documentaries and something like seventy feature film. Photography has remained one of my few hobbies, more often it is an excuse to spend many hours just walking, my camera over my shoulder and with no particular purpose but to observe.
At what times do you find the best motifs?
I like early mornings the best, before there are many people around. I am not good with people.
What conditions do you need in order to concentrate on photography?
Conditions? It needs to be a time when I am not thinking about a movie, challenged by a scene I have to light and shoot, or a film project that I have on my mind. I love images both for what they can make me feel and the story they can tell. I always loved the process of interpreting what is around me into an image.
When do you know that you have found a perfect image?
The choice of when to take a picture and which of the resultant images has a future, reveals something of us as individuals. Each of us see differently. We are drawn to subjects that resonate with us personally and our interpretations differ through our choice of camera angle and composition. Without a detailed explanation of how and why a picture came about, can it mean the same to the viewer as it does to the photographer? Maybe a photograph should stand alone.
You used to develop the images yourself and now work digitally: do you miss aspects of analogue photography?
I miss those late nights in the darkroom with my hands getting progressively more and more wrinkled by the developer and bleached by the fix! Seriously, I did love the process of printing, but there is so much more immediacy to capturing an image with a digital camera. You usually know what you have before you go home. But, in the end, I don’t think what you capture an image with is important. The content of the image and the frame are what really matter.
Which Leica cameras did you work with?
I own a Leica M8, which was my workhorse for a long time, but I also own an M9 Monochrom and a Leica Q. Nowadays I mostly work with the Monochrom.
Was it difficult to find a selection for the book Byways?
Not so difficult really. I am quite selective before I press the shutter, so it wasn’t as if I had thousands of images to choose from.
Which subjects in the exhibition at Leica Gallery Los Angeles are most important to you, or which do you love most?
Of course, I like all the images at the exhibition or they wouldn’t be there. I clearly remember the moment and the reason I took every one of them. All are in some way personal, but, over a span of 50 years, there are a few of the English seaside that are my most personal images.
Sir Roger Deakins (CBE, ASC, BSC) was born in Torquay, England on May 24, 1949. He first studied Graphic Design at the Bath Academy of Art in Bath, Somerset, before discovering photography. Over the following years, he took numerous pictures until, in 1972, he continued with his studies at the National Film School in London. Afterwards he began filming documentaries and working on various television productions. He has been a cameraman working mostly in the USA since 1988. In 2013 Queen Elizabeth II honoured him with the Order of the British Empire, and in 2022 he was knighted for his outstanding contributions to film. The list of awards is long, and his commitment to film manifold. In 2020, together with his wife, James Ellis Deakins, he launched the Team Deakins podcast, which deals with the world of film. Find out more about his works on his website or the Instagram channel of Team Deakins.