The Photographic Inspirations Behind Moonlight, 2016’s Best Picture
One of the founding myths in the history of cinema (and it is likely a myth) centers on the screening of a 50-second, black-and-white silent film made by the Lumière Brothers showing the arrival of a train at a station. When the film was first shown, in the 1890s, this seemingly banal scene was astonishing. The urban legend goes that the captivated audience was so shocked by the sight of a moving locomotive bearing down on them that many began to panic and flee the cinema.
According to Moonlight cinematographer James Laxton, much of today’s cinema has lost this subjective intensity. For all of the modern marvels of special effects, 3-D glasses, even shaking seats and simulated experience, what these films lack is the capacity to engage our imaginations. If the images on the screen do all the work, Laxton reasons, our brains are left with little space to roam. “All of these visual fireworks are the antithesis of why we enjoy movies: activating our imaginations and being able to feel we are somewhere else.”
By contrast, for Laxton there is one medium where the imagination is given a great deal of free rein: still photography. He says, “When I look at still images, my brain becomes actively engaged and I am able to picture a whole experience, a different world…photography enhances my sense of what happened just before or after the frame was captured.”
Photo by David Bornfriend