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Edward Lachman

Q&A: OU alumnus Ed Lachman was nominated for an Oscar for his 'Carol' cinematography

Ed Lachman, a cinematographer who worked on "Carol," talks about his style choices and other decisions he makes while filming.

An Ohio University alumnus who graduated in 1971 was nominated for an Academy Award this year.

Edward Lachman received a nomination for Best Cinematography for his work on Todd Haynes’ Carol.

Lachman was at the 43rd Annual Athens International Film + Video Festival earlier in April, and The Post sat down with him to discuss his work.

The Post: How do you balance style and substance?

Edward Lachman: The story has to give you the stylization so you work with the director for ideas. You know, like, where is (the story) situated? What time period is it situated? Whose point of view? So much of filmmaking or cinematography has to be whose point of view are we seeing the movie through. And then you’re looking for the locations. The locations have a great influence about how you’re going to photograph the scene. And then also the way the spatial relationships in that environment create the light. Every story is different — every story has to find its own language. Like writing, no writer writes the same way. To me, images are the language of cinema and so you have to find the right language to tell your story in.

P: You’ve worked with Todd Haynes several times. What is different about your projects that you’ve worked on with him and some of the other stuff you’ve done?

EL: Well, I’ve been very fortunate to work with many visual directors and Todd is certainly one of the foremost visual directors I’ve worked with. I’ve worked with Paul Schrader, Steven Soderbergh, Wim Wenders and Austrian director Ulrich Seidl. Todd comes out of an art background like I do. I studied studio arts — I got a BFA at Ohio University when they just had a budding film program. (Haynes) studied semiology at Brown and he is a great collector of visual ideas. In telling the story, we look at the documentation of the time period and the language that the film is being told in. It’s a discovery process with the director (about) how you find the visual language. But he’s so aware visually of how the language affects what he’s emotionally expressing about the story — the images come out of the emotions and not just out of the intellect.

P: There is a lot of restricted composition in Carol where it’s filmed through doorways and windows. I’ve read you said this is influenced by Saul Leiter’s photography. Why did you select this for this style and what intrigued you about it? 

EL: Saul Leiter was a street photographer like Robert Frank in the late ’40s, early ’50s, but he was very close to a lot of painters. In fact, he painted throughout his life, so he saw photography almost as a painting medium. He was very close to a lot of abstract expressionists, so the content of his images had a lot to do with the surface of things rather than the content. Like many street photographers were filming or shooting still photography as social documentation of the time, but he was actually using the street as a way of expressing one’s emotions by experiencing the image. And so we felt because there was a certain hinderance that these characters — Therese and Carol — going through this subjective point of view of their lives and how they view each other that by showing them some way entrapped but seeing something blocked view outward as we, the viewer, look in on them. So there’s an obstruction, a hinderance, something like what was happening emotionally to them — that they’re being hindered by their affection. For Therese’s character, that her life isn’t synthesized yet, she’s still coming to terms with who she is as a person, what she wants do with herself in life and also that she has these emotions for another woman.

So by showing this obstruction or hindrance, we are seeing her through dirty windows or reflections, the rain or the snow, we’re hopefully creating a feeling for the viewer of what she’s feeling herself. That’s what I’m always trying to do is try to find the visual metaphor for the storytelling. And we found Saul Leiter’s photography could express those feelings about the characters because you’re not totally seeing them. She’s not totally seeing what’s clear to her on the outside. She’s standing in the doorway waiting for the first meeting she’s going to have with Carol in the restaurant for lunch, and we do a slow moving shot through glass pane of a wooden door and you see these reflections moving past the door. Maybe that could equate her own trepidation and feelings about meeting Carol. These things that you do photographically in a film, you can’t say "That’s what we want the audience to feel,” but we’re trying to equate a way of showing the interior world through the exterior world.

P: Hollywood Reporter said that you have saved equipment from the New York Film Lab. What do you think about the trend of going back to using film?

EL: People realize there is a different look when you see something shot on film, even though you digitally project it, even though you end up showing it digitally. There’s a different feeling than if you originate digitally, so I’ve tried to hold on to film, and the director, Todd Haynes, loves film. We think that (film) is more pleasing to the actors look, too.

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P: Do you have any trademarks or key aspects to your style? And if so, how did they develop?

EL: My background is painting, so I like using color not for just decorative reasons, but using it as a psychological tool in viewing the film and viewing the characters. I play with different color palettes to create emotions in the characters, create for the viewer what the emotions are that you’re experiencing and what emotions are going through the characters in the story. And then, obviously, composition is very important to me. It isn’t about close-up, medium, long shot, but the spatial relationships in the environment that the characters are seen in have a lot to say about what they’re feeling.

Editor's note: This Q&A has been edited for clarity.

@georgiadee35

gd497415@ohio.edu

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