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How NYFCC Award Winner Ed Lachman Shot ‘Carol’ Through the Prism of ’50s Photojournalism

How NYFCC Award Winner Ed Lachman Shot 'Carol' Through the Prism of '50s Photojournalism

Carol” is definitely a far cry from Todd Haynes’ Douglas Sirk-inspired “Far From Heaven.” It’s a completely different aesthetic, of course: the difference between expressionism and naturalism, the difference between Hollywood artifice and more delicate photography. Which is why Haynes’ long-time DP Ed Lachman, who earlier today won Best Cinematography from the New York Film Critics Circle, chose to shoot the gorgeous Patricia Highsmith-adapted love story starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara on Super 16 film.

READ MORE: “Todd Haynes and Writer Phyllis Nagy Talk ‘Carol,’ Glamorous Stars, Highsmith and More”

“I wanted to reference the visual language of the time, not Hollywood movies, but the use of color by photojournalists,” explained Lachman. “And many of those photographers were women that experimented with color photography: Ruth Orkin, Esther Bubley, Vivian Maier, Helen Levitt.

“Each time period has different eyes to what they consider the color palette, when you look at the way people dress or the paint that they use for their homes or the furniture. So we thought that film structure and using color negative would capture the feeling of that world. And there’s a grayness to the color, which fit the story.

“What I also liked about it was that Rooney’s character is a budding photographer. Today, the digital world is so smooth and clean; we wanted a soft, soiled, indeterminate feeling in the world that the characters found themselves in. At that time, we weren’t in the high-gloss world of the later ’50s where Douglas Sirk used beauty as a form of repression. But we were between the War and Eisenhower: an uncertain, unstable time in America. These are subtleties that you play with. The colors lent themselves to magenta and green, secondary colors, not primary.”

Lachman is so passionate about film, in fact, that when Technicolor recently closed down its lab in New York City and was going to junk the photo-chemical equipment, the cinematographer arranged with his key grip to have it sent to his warehouse, where it could continue as a vital film processing and printing rig. Whereas the digital pixel is fixed on one plane, film is etched by light and Lachman wants to continue that tradition.

WATCH: “Rooney Mara on Loving Cate Blanchett in ‘Carol,’ Owning Lisbeth Salander, and More (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO)”

“When you shoot 35mm film and you go through a DI, to me, it gets closer to the digital look,” Lachman continued. “So by shooting in Super 16 and going through the DI and projecting it at digital format, even if it improves the image in sharpness, it still maintains the feeling of film because you started with a lower resolution of the film. For certain stories, it’s a perfect marriage.”

“Carol” is about the isolation of desire and romantic imagination: “the unsettling of the amorous mind,” according to Haynes, in describing the semi-autobiographical Highsmith novel, “The Price of Salt.” Lachman found it an interesting twist on the author’s fascination with the criminal mind. “This is the one book that she didn’t write as a thriller. The crime here was their love. And Todd wrote me his impressions before we started the film (“Flung Out of Space: Thoughts on a Visual Criteria for ‘Carol'”): 

“‘The best love stories reside on the side of the lover, steeped in their over-productive and active minds. If we are rooted in one point of view, it’s Therese’s, at least until the end of the film. But the camera need not overstate this. The film needs eyes, fingers to be more instructive than aggressive angles, moods or lighting…’

READ MORE: “Todd Haynes Talks ‘Carol,’ Love Stories and Making “Radically Queer” Movies”  

“To me, the camera is like another performer,” added Lachman, who found “Carol” refreshingly hopeful as a lesbian love story from that period. “So when I’m shooting a love scene, I actually operate one of the cameras with my A operator. We’re moving the camera slightly to their emotions. That maybe comes out of my documentary background. You feel that the camera has a sense of discovery. For instance, when they’re in bed together, the camera goes gently over to their hands.”

For Lachman, it’s all about combining the representational with the psychological, which he discovered in the works of street photographer Saul Leiter. “Carol” arguably represents his most beautiful cinematic expression to date.

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