Two Giants of Cinematography on the Other Side of the Camera

By Dusing, Lyla | American Cinematographer, July 1981 | Go to article overview

Two Giants of Cinematography on the Other Side of the Camera


Dusing, Lyla, American Cinematographer


Camera aces, Joseph Walker, ASC and Joseph Biroc, ASC are filmed for a television special being produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Co.

Throughout the past six decades, the mention of the names of Joseph Walker, ASC, 89, and Joseph Biroc, ASC, 78, has inspired a feeling of awe amongst fellow cinematographers and other industry technicians. Even a partial list of the credits earned by these two cinematographic giants would take up more space than is available here.

But Walker and Biroc were recently on the other side of the camera when the director yelled "Roll 'em!", as they were interviewed on film at the A.S.C. clubhouse by Elwy Yost of the Canadian Broadcasting Company.

Walker, one of only three cinematographers to be inducted into the Motion Picture Hall of Fame in Hollywood, was Director of Photography for Columbia Pictures for 30 years. His expertise, however, was not limited to photography as he is credited with the invention of the first zoom lens, as well as a camera flashing attachment, comparator explosure meter, panoramic television camera, compound image-forming reflecting mirror for aerial image effects, and several variable diffusion devices. His most recent patent was granted last year.

One of his earliest diffusion devices was a silk stocking. "We would go to the five-and-ten and buy a very high-quality silk stocking, burn a hole in it and put it over the lens of the camera. That would create a diffusion," Walker said. This was during the silent picture days.

When sound came in, there were new problems for the cinematographers. "Our enclosed cameras for the early sound pictures were up six feet high, with no air, and shooting through a piece of glass at least half an inch thick. That was to keep the sound away from the microphone, but there was no chance for movement. You couldn't pan, tilt, move or anything. Everybody worked at getting the camera out of there, and at Columbia I was able to build a booth that cost very little. We were building camera blimps and padding everything on it from the outside. Well, I went the other way and built the padding on the inside. That enabled me to shoot without glass on the front of the lens so I could get my diffusion. It gave me a lighter unit so we could move it around, put it on a tripod, and roll it around on dollys."

The first feature picture that Walker made was named BACK TO GOD'S COUNTRY, a Canadian silent movie in which Yost was quite interested. …

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