Long before he was a cinematographer, Roger Deakins was a photographer. The film-maker’s eye that has earned Deakins 15 Oscar nominations (and two Oscars) in celebrated work with the Coen brothers, Sam Mendes and others first found its expression in documentary photography of rural north Devon in the early 1970s.
Some of those formative pictures of farm hands and country fairs are collected in the first monograph of Deakin’s photography work. They take their place alongside images such as this one, which was taken on the set of The Reader, the film of Bernhard Schlink’s Holocaust novel, made in Germany in 2007. Although Deakins says he often used a still camera to take photographs of locations or to plan lighting rigs for particular scenes, occasionally, off duty and off set, he returned to his first vocation, just looking for little moments that captured his attention.
The picture of the hands, outside the window of a vintage train they had been using for filming, was one of those moments. Though to some eyes it may carry shadows of Schlink’s book, “for me,” Deakins says, “that picture had nothing to do with the making of the film, or the subject of the film, or what we’d done that day. We had wrapped and everybody was sitting on the train, going home, basically. I happened to have my camera with me.”
That kind of downtime is also the story of other photographs in his book, he says. Film-making is obviously an intensely collaborative business. “I’ve loved being on film sets and working with the same people for five or six months, towards a common aim,” Deakins says. “But I’m also a very private person.” Walking with his camera has been one way of finding some time and space for himself. “And if you come back with one shot you like, well at least you feel like you’ve achieved something.”
Byways by Roger A Deakins is published by Damiani (£45)