In Memoriam: Hans F. Koenekamp, ASC

American Cinematographer, November 1992 | Go to article overview

In Memoriam: Hans F. Koenekamp, ASC


Hans F. Koenekamp, ASC, pioneer cinematographer, director and visual effects supervisor, died on Sept 12,1992 at his home in Northridge, California. He was the oldest living member of the ASC and in 1990 was honored with the society's President's Award for his contributions to motion pictures.

Koenekamp was born on December 3, 1891, in Denison, Iowa, the son of immigrants from Oldenburg, Germany. He came to Los Angeles in 1911 and began his movie career as a theater projectionist.

In 1913 Koenekamp became a cameraman at the Mack Sennett Keystone Studio, where his first job was to build a submersible camera housing and photograph undersea scenes for a Mabel Normand picture. For several years thereafter he filmed numerous Keystone comedies with stars such as Wallace Beery, Gloria Swanson, the Sennett Bathing Beauties and the Keystone Kops. He also directed and photographed Charlie Chaplin's first Keystone comedy when the Britishborn comedian arrived at the studio from Chicago.

After a stint with Fox Studios, Koenekamp joined Vitagraph in 1917 and for eight years photographed all the comedies of director-star Larry Semon. From 1924-27 he photographed The Girl in the Limousine, The Wizard of Oz (with Semon as the Scarecrow and Oliver Hardy as the Tin Man), It Must Be Love; Stop, Look and Listen, and Suds, in addition to a full slate of Semon two-reel comedies.

Some of the great special effects experts of later years including Fred Jackman, ASC, Ernest B. Schoedsack and Vernon L. Walker, ASC, were former specialists at photographing silent comedies. Many of the Sennett gags were surreal fantasy and most were done in the camera without benefit of postproduction work. Koenekamp became noted for his ability to enhance comedy action with his growing repertoire of baffling effects. Because of the necessity of changing cranking speeds during a scene, he invented a device to change the shutter speed automatically to correct the exposure for varying speeds. The device was widely imitated and eventually became standard equipment.

When Warner Bros, purchased First National's Burbank studios, Koenekamp signed a contract and remained for 30 years. He soon began to specialize in directing and photographing second units and producing special effects for many of the studio's productions. Some outstanding early examples were Moby Dick with John Barrymore, two versions of Isle of Lost Ships, Noah's Ark, Svengali (which includes the famous scene in which the camera moves back from an extreme closeup of John Barrymore's eyes until he is seen in the far distance in the window of his garret, then flies across the city of Paris to a close-up of Marian Marsh in her bedroom), I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, and Submarine D-I.

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In Memoriam: Hans F. Koenekamp, ASC
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