The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Darius Khondji

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
King Kong (1933) made a great impression on me when I was quite young.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Gregg Toland, ASC and Gianni di Venanzo, and also [ASC members] Gordon Willis, Vittorio Storaro and Vilmos Zsigmond. Their work from one director to another was often remarkable and groundbreaking. They could serve a film and enhance the way the story was told with a very radical and modern or atmospheric approach without being overly illustrative or killing the story with a heavy ‘style.’

What sparked your interest in photography?

Very early it was going to see films, and later it was studying photographs and paintings and starting to feel the power of natural light on me and around me at different moments of the day and night.

Where did you train and/or study?
I studied photography and film in New York.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
At New York University I had a great teacher, Haig Manoogian, and later I met and worked with Bruno Nuytten, AFC.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
Early on my influences were painters and photographers: realist painters in America such as Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper, the Expressionist movement in Germany, and the photography of Robert Frank and Diane Arbus.

How did you get your first break in the business?

My first break was being able to photograph Delicatessen and then Seven.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
Many of my projects have been good experiences, including the movies I’ve just mentioned, but recently, I would say the work I did with Woody Allen on Midnight in Paris.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
Many, many blunders…

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
1) Learn how to listen; 2) Choose one strong idea per film; and 3) Really understand your motivations, why you do something and not something else, and the direction you take in your work.

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
A great book on the life of Caravaggio, Caravaggio: The Complete Works, edited by Rossella Vodret.
Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
I would love to photograph a Western and a very good vampire film. Vampire films have been one of my favorite genres since childhood.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?

I would have loved to be an architect.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?

Vilmos Zsigmond, George Spiro Dibie and Steven Poster.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
It was a wonderful thing becoming a member of the ASC, like belonging to a new family of great people. It is definitely the greatest honor.

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