Sven Nykvist has to be one of my most admired cinematographers. I have come to know Sven’s works through my admiration for Ingmar Bergman films. When watching these Bergman films, I am completely absorbed in the thoughts of the characters as though they are my very thoughts. Sven had been criticised for his preference of natural light over studio light. He once said “I prefer to shoot on location because in the studio you have too many possibilities, too many lights to destroy your whole picture” in an interview with Ronald Bergan in a Guardian article. http://www.theguardian.com/film/2006/sep/21/obituaries
What distinguishes film from theatre is that film has the ability to pierce through the character’s mind and heart, and perhaps the soul too. It could isolate the character’s psychology and state of mind for the audience to peek into, there’s a frightening and wonderful sense of intimacy which only the film medium could provide. The perversion of the character’s psychology one might like to put. This is the precise reason that I love Sven’s work, his cinematography skill and camera direction deliver exactly this. As Bergman’s films mainly deal with the drama of our human psychology, emotion and state of being, the human physiognomies are often framed almost like a portrait, a painting, or a striking canvas which strip bare of the character’s emotion, and displays the character’s very moment state of being. Stephen Holden from the New York Times quoted: “In his films, especially those with Mr. Bergman, light assumed a metaphysical dimension that went beyond mood. It distilled and deepened the feelings of torment and spiritual separation that afflicted Bergman characters. But in scenes of tranquillity filmed outdoors, the light might also evoke glimpses of transcendence. The sumptuous scenes of a Scandinavian Christmas in “Fanny and Alexander” burst with warmth and a magical, childlike joy.” http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/21/movies/21nykvist.html?_r=0
In my 2nd semester project, I too aim for a naturalistic approach to my film, hoping to capture the character’s psychology rather than emotion, state of being rather than actions. I find that Sven’s works closely resemble to what I want to achieve in my films.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0L1Y-wL9x4 (link to this portraiture shot which I love)
To achieve the look of Bergman’s films, Sven collaborated closely with Ingmar, going with him to the location and studied the condition and the changes of the light of the location over time, as this would affect their vision and the practical approach to shooting and lighting the location. Both Sven and Ingmar heavily placed the significance of light changes in relation to the meaning of the character’s actions. For example, for “Winter Light”, Sven had commented that “Ingmar and I went to a real church during our preparation and took photos every five minutes to study how the winter light changed over a similar time period”
In the close up portraiture shot of the characters, Sven liked to emphasise the light refection in the character’s eyes, he believed that it is true to life. In his very own words “Capturing these reflections helps to give the impression of a human being thinking. It’s very important to me to light so that you can sense what lies behind a character’s eyes. I always aim to catch the light in the eyes, because I feel they are the mirror of the soul. Truth is in the actor’s eyes and very small changes in expression can reveal more than a thousand words”
Sven highly admired the simplicity on the use and availability of the equipment, through his experience, he had learnt to trust his eyes and feeling. “ I’m not really a very technical person. I don’t measure the highlight and shadows, for example; I decide such things by eye. I like to draw from experience and from my feelings when I shoot. Sometimes I feel ashamed at my lack of interest in all the new techniques of modern film-making, but I prefer to work with as little equipment as possible”. I am yet at the stage where I am able to trust my eyes and intuition when it comes to shooting or choosing a particular lighting condition for the frame, though with the very little artistic intellect of the my eyes, I know when a frame is what I want and whether the character is being brought to life. I hope to acquire more technical knowledge on lighting and camera work, knowing the possibilities that the equipment can provide before I can decide on what is minimal or overly complex.
Similar to Sven’s approach, I draw inspiration from looking at paintings (especially those of Rembrandt and Caravaggio) and photography (Henri Bresson), as these inform me on the important of lighting and the stylistic approaches to portray the character/s or set the scene. Sven once said “A great deal of my inspiration comes from painting and stills photography. For example, in preparing for Pretty Baby (78) Louis Malle and I spent a lot of time studying Vermeer’s paintings, specifically the way he uses light”
References:http://fleetfilms.blogspot.com.au/2010/07/sven-nykvist-interview-from.html; Sven Nykvist interview from Cinematography Screencraft by Peter Ettedgui, Focal Press (imprint of Butterworth-Heinemann - Copyright – RotoVision SA 1998)