Magazine article American Cinematographer

Close-Up: Tom Hurwitz, ASC

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Close-Up: Tom Hurwitz, ASC

Article excerpt

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?

When I was about 10,1 don't know why, but my mother took me to see Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal. Just as one would expect, I had nightmares for months. But I never forgot any image that Gunnar Fischer shot for Bergman. The frames were engraved in my mind. I intuitively understood the power of cinematography to make images that create a world of meaning.

Which cinematographers, past or present do you most admire?

Goodness! That is almost as hard as picking a favorite film. I'm sure I'm going to leave many, many out. For features - in no particular order - [ASC members] Gregg Toland, James Wong Howe, Arthur Edeson, Haskell Wexler, Gordy Willis, Peter Suschitzky, Roger Deakins, Philippe Rousselot, Conrad Hall, Boris Kaufman, Owen Roizman. And for docs, Roman Karmen, Paul Strand, AI Maysles, Don Lenzer, Bob Richman, Andy Young.

What sparked your interest in photography?

As a kid, looking at the photo book The Family of Man. In it, I first saw the work of the great still documentarians, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Helen Levitt, Dorothea Lange and W. Eugene Smith. Later, Garry Winogrand. I think I first understood the power of documentary cinematography when I saw the work of Paul Strand, who shot my father's watershed documentary feature, Native Land (1942). It's still a masterpiece.

Where did you train and/or study?

I really wanted to get a liberal-arts education - which I would recommend for anyone making films, especially documentaries-so I went to Columbia. Also, my young adulthood coincided with the Vietnam War; my experience organizing to end it, in all sorts of communities, helped me to understand the grandeur in everyday people.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?

My first mentor was my father, the documentary director Leo Hurwitz, who taught me that understanding editing was the key to cinematography. I worked with director Robert M. Young on one of my first features; he had come out of documentaries and shot people in a wonderful way. In documentaries, I assisted Don Lenzer and Bob Elfstrom - I learned from them and many others.

What are some of your key artistic influences?

I love to look at paintings. Just a sampling of favorites: medieval icons, Northern Renaissance masters; Italians like Duccio and Fra Angelico; then Vermeer, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Goya; the Dutch landscape painters; the French like David, Utrillo and Degas; then Hopper, Eakins, even Arshile Gorky. …

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