Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography is a documentary film directed by Arnold Glassman, Stuart Samuels, and Todd McCarthy in 1992. The film embraces a history of many American movies since the conception of cinema in the 20th century. Many cinematographers and filmmakers expound their views and deliberate why the art of cinematography is critical in the filmmaking craft. Among famous cinematographers, there are Michael Chapman, John Bailey, Néstor Almendros, Conrad Hall, László Kovács, and others. Filmmakers also explain the origins of many unforgettable images in film history.
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The first important fact about cinematography is related to films of the 20s when cinematographers developed the fundamental techniques of photography. Directors of that time had much more freedom and could experiment with photography since the camera did not depend on soundtrack and dialogues, and sophisticated equipment. Nevertheless, because of the absence of sound, the operator should have understood all aspects of lighting techniques and cinematography principles to convey the atmosphere and sense of the episode in a cinema.
The second concept that affected the development of Hollywood cinematography is the importance of a handsome actor and beautiful actress in movies. In this regard, Harry Wolf recalls one incident when Louis Meyer called the cameraman and said to him that, “I don’t care what the star goes through flood, fire, I don’t care, she’s got to look beautiful” (Visions 13:40-13:48). At that time, women stars were extremely important, and they even had their own photographers that created the image and reputation of a particular celebrity. Finally, cinematography made a qualitatively new leap with the appearance of film noir that developed an increasingly dense and rarefied visual vocabulary. This vocabulary is primarily characterized by graphic elements such as low angles, strong single-source lighting slashes of light, and dark shadows. In film noir, cinematographers emphasized the significance of the dark as the essential element in the scene.