Polish cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski has had a long and successful career in cinema: over four decades, he has worked on almost 100 films in 32 countries. He has been nominated for and won awards not only in Poland but also in the United Kingdom and the United States.
But before he began working in film, Lenczewski wanted to be a photographer. After learning the rudiments of the darkroom during a job at a printing house, he began shooting on his own. He was soon winning local photography competitions and dreaming of a career in the field. But in communist Poland at that time, a career in photography was hardly possible — there were no magazines, no advertisements, no fashion. He determined that the best way to get behind a camera and make images was to become a cinematographer.
Lenczewski never abandoned his roots however. He continues to photograph to this day and feels that photographic stills are an essential part of his practice. The stills above were taken as preparatory sketches for his latest, award-winning work for the film Ida.
You describe how photographing is like “sketching” for you — a way to help you prepare your cinematographic shots. Is this standard practice among cinematographers? How did still photography become such a large part of your professional method?
During one of my first movies as a cinematographer, I was working with a difficult director. We were having trouble communicating, especially about how the film should look. I knew he was very precise and words were failing us. So, I dug up my old camera, a Praktica and began to scout locations on my own. As soon as I showed him prints, we found it easier and easier to communicate. Eventually, the stills became a storyboard for us and set the tone for the entire movie.
Shooting still photography not only gives me a way to communicate with directors in a straightforward, visual manner but it also gave me a lot of independence. Films are very collaborative projects but when I scout locations, I can go on my own and snap photographs as I please.