We know Hollywood is a boys' club. Studies show that women are woefully underrepresented in so many fields across the board, but the noise and intolerance around this is getting louder. Female stories, and their writers, directors, actors, producers, and cinematographers, will not be ignored any longer. Historically, one of the most male-dominated departments has been the camera department, and female cinematographers (directors of photography, or DPs) in particular have been egregiously underrepresented.
Cinematography is a science and an art. With a mastery of lighting and camera work from both a visual and technological perspective, a DP is on set to establish and then protect and maintain the look of the project. They select the camera and the lenses, they set the light, and they are the head of the department that touches every image. They have arguably the hardest job on a set. They travel constantly, work incredibly long hours, are on their feet all day, and manage an entire department. They have to execute the creative wishes of the director while simultaneously pushing through their own artistic vision. They bring the audience into the story, capturing the whole spectrum — from intimate and emotional moments to epic landscape shots to high-octane action. They have to make you feel everything. DPs are, in essence, the director's right hand and the actors' rock.
The glass ceiling for female DPs has technically been broken — Brianne Murphy was the first woman admitted to the American Society of Cinematographers in 1980 — but rather than a flood, what followed was a trickle. But finally that seems to be changing: there are a bunch of female cinematographers straight killing it — working in commercials, documentaries, television shows, and movies.
I spoke with six female cinematographers, with a variety of experience in the business — some have been at it for more than twenty years, and some are earlier in their careers. Now, in their own words, excerpts of interviews with Ellen Kuras, Amy Vincent, Reed Morano, Natasha Braier, Nadia Hallgren, and Eve Cohen, a diverse group of DPs who refuse to back down and are responsible for some of the best and most beautiful projects out there. We would all be lucky to work with them, and we can't wait for more young women out there to join their ranks.
AMY VINCENT (Black Snake Moan, Hustle & Flow, This Film Is Not Yet Rated): I have to say that at the time I started, I did not know that I was going into a profession that was so male-dominated. I had no idea. I suppose if I had had any idea, I probably would have wanted to do it even more ...
ELLEN KURAS (Away We Go, The Betrayal, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind): I really don't think about having broken the glass ceiling. I think of myself as someone who has a really cool pair of glass cutters in my back pocket, and I get to the ceiling and calmly edge a hole out of the ceiling and then I get a "ting!" and I just push it through and then I climb in like, "Oh, I'm here."
NATASHA BRAIER (Neon Demon, The Rover, Swimmer): I would say in the first ten years I really had to fight to be accepted as a cinematographer and to prove that I could [do it] as a woman. I was using my masculine energy a lot more. Then, when I got older and more established, I would relax a little bit and be myself because I didn't have to prove myself so much. I wasn't in defensive, fighting mode.