The American Society of Cinematographers

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Presidents Desk
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Jerzy Zielinski

Jerzy Zielinski, ASC, PSC

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
The very first movie I saw in a theater, the French black-and-white film White Mane (1953). There was very little dialogue, so I didn’t have to distract myself reading subtitles. I was 10.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
The ‘usual suspects,’ if I may say: [ASC members] Sven Nykvist, Vittorio Storaro, Gordon Willis and Owen Roizman. But also Walter Lassally, BSC, for The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, one of my favorite movies from the Sixties; Gianni di Venanzo, for Antonioni’s movies; Jerzy Wojcik, for Ashes and Diamonds; and Dante Spinotti, ASC, AIC, for The Insider.

What sparked your interest in photography?
I don’t really know how it started. I’ve wanted to capture images for as long as I can remember.

Where did you train and/or study?
I graduated from the National Polish Film School in Lödz.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
Mieczyslaw Jahoda, my cinematography teacher in film school. He was the first cinematographer to shoot color film in Poland. He had a straightforward approach to solving problems on the set: ‘Just simplify.’

What are some of your key artistic influences?
When I was in high school, I shot black-and-white stills and watched movies in a local art house. At the same time, I was fascinated by French Impressionists and Cezanne, Gauguin and Degas. Later, I became more interested in still photographers with very different approaches, from Weegee to Sally Mann. It was mostly black-and-white photography.

How did you get your first break in the business?
I was lucky. After film school, I started shooting shorts, mostly on 35mm, and when I was 29, I shot my first feature. Later, I went to London and met producer David Putnam, who gave me the opportunity to shoot my first feature outside Poland: Cal, directed by Pat O’Connor and starring Helen Mirren.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
It’s hard to say, but it’s still pretty awesome to tell stories in a cinematic way and create images on a big screen. It’s a bit like a drug you’re addicted to!

Have you made any memorable blunders?
Shooting on film is always a nerve-wracking process. You look at your light meter on the set and try to position every detail of the photographed scene in the right spot on a curve. You can make it safe, but I was always tempted to go one step further. I was usually lucky, but in some cases it took a bit more work for a color timer to save the scene.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t let yourself become too obsessed with technology. Find a balance with your creativity.

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
Robert K. Massie’s book Catherine the Great and Walter Isaacson’s fascinating biography of Steve Jobs. I’m also rediscovering old noir movies with Humphrey Bogart. Maybe it’s nostalgia knocking at my door.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
Film noir.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
It would have to be something unreal, perhaps an illusionist or magician.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Roger Deakins, Francis Kenny and Jacek Laskus.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
I’m happy to be part of this group of great people and filmmakers. Sometimes I don’t see them for a long time, but there is always a connection.


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