Byways, the debut monograph by Oscar-winning cinematographer Sir Roger Deakins (recently published by Damiani), unveils some of his rarely-seen photographic oeuvre.
Renowned for his collaborations with some of the most distinguished directors of our time, Deakins has, over the years, bestowed his unique vision on such celebrated titles as The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, A Beautiful Mind, Skyfall, Blade Runner 2049, and 1917.
Before turning to the moving image, however, Deakins was a photographer. His interest in the medium peaked whilst studying graphic design at Bath Academy of Art.
At the time, Roger Mayne, the renowned British social documentary photographer, (best known for his depictions of London’s Southam street during the 1950s) was a guest lecturer at the college, and it was he, who galvanized Deakins’ curiosity.
His early photographic output almost exclusively portrayed the quotidian. During college, he would spend his weekends hitchhiking to Bristol, or the nearby seaside town of Weston-Super-Mare, where, on occasion, he would sleep on the beach in order “to catch the early morning light.”
Upon completing his college studies he took a job as a photographer at Beaford Arts Centre in his native North Devon, where he was tasked with capturing everyday life in the area. Country fairs; livestock markets; farmhands at work: the images he captured whilst wandering the ‘byways’ of the region, display the rare artistry that would later underpin his much-celebrated cinematography, and together, capture the pastoral quintessence of this quiet corner of England.
Aside from his early days as a cinematographer (when he, regrettably by his own admission, rarely carried a still camera), he has maintained an active interest in photography throughout his career.
Along with some of his aforementioned early inceptions, Byways includes images shot across the world whilst he was researching locations for shoots, and others, whilst traveling with his wife. However, for Deakins, photography has often been a solitary endeavor, an antidote to the ‘enjoyable’ yet intensely collaborative process of working on films. He is in his own words a private person, for whom photography is, “an excuse to spend many hours just walking’ with “no specific purpose but to observe”.
Candid close-ups, wide-angle landscapes, and dynamic long exposures, his monochrome photographs display a variety of approaches and techniques, yet first and foremost, testify to the remarkably perceptive artistic gaze that has seen him nominated for an Oscar on fifteen separate occasions (winning twice).
Thoughtful, poetic, and profoundly arresting, they display his distinct enigmatic sensibility, and presented for the most part with little or no information or context (index aside) form a compelling visual soliloquy that conveys with great eloquence, the profound power of the still image.
Byways is available now via Damiani
All images © Roger Deakins