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Cinematographer Roger Deakins’ credits include everything from Barton Fink and The Shawshank Redemption to the upcoming Sam Mendes film Empire of Light. But one of his first jobs behind the camera saw Deakins’ lens trained on a flock of sheep. The commission was to document life in England’s rural North Devon — from the livestock to the local carnival — for the Beaford Arts Centre during the early 1970s.
“It’s funny, really. I don’t think I was very good at that job,” the two-time Oscar winner says with a laugh. “My photographs are kind of whimsical — they’re not really historical.”
Now, those photos can be seen in Deakins’ first book, Byways (Damiani, $55), out Nov. 2. It features some five decades’ worth of black-and-white images from the DP’s personal collection, encompassing his travels across New Zealand and Rapa Nui and his time on film sets, where he has snapped images like Bond’s classic Aston Martin while filming Skyfall or the lonely tree that would appear at the end of 1917. Deakins, 72, talked to THR about publishing his personal photographs.
When you first started in photography, what were you shooting on?
I bought a secondhand Pentax, and I didn’t have a very large selection of lenses. In fact, I think I had two, and I dropped one of them one day. And when I was working for this arts center, I said, “I need a darkroom.” The only place I could [use] was a restroom. I did all of my developing and printing, some of not such great quality. (Laughs.)
How has it been to look back at a lifetime’s worth of pictures?
We’ve been doing this podcast [Team Deakins] over the last six months, and we’ve been talking to a couple of great still photographers. And they say they come back depressed when they haven’t taken a photograph that day. But when they do find something, and they take one photograph, then they come back feeling a little high. That’s exactly how I feel about it. If I spend a day or a week and I just get one photograph that I’m happy with it, it really gives me a lift. So going through the archives of pictures, I remember taking every photograph, even way back in the 1970s.
What was the thinking behind doing a book?
I’m very old-fashioned. I like looking at pictures on my laptop, but on the other hand, I’d rather have a book of photographs sitting there. So it’s really wonderful to see it come about. And it’s also nice to know that’s all the photographs I’ve taken in the past. And now I can start again.
Has your photography influenced your cinematography?
There’s obviously connections, but I see [photography] very much [as] a relaxation. On a film, I’m working with however many people. It could be dozens or 100. When I’m just wandering around with my camera, that’s just me — alone.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the Oct. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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