Letter From the President: Creation of the Image

Much will change as a result of 2020. Some things will disappear, others will return modified by lessons learned during these past months: different, but better.​​

At top: “A Day at the Races” was photographed by John Simmons, ASC at Santa Anita racetrack in 2019. He notes, “The elderly Black man watching the horses was what moved me. I usually take pictures that have a definite narrative. This photograph is all about composition — I was attracted to the graphics and space. To me, it’s a powerful image that stands on its own without a story. I shot it with a Sony a7R III with a 50mm Leica Summilux. I purchased that lens in 1970.”
ASC President Stephen Lighthill (Photo by Michael M. Pessah, ASC)

With this January 2021 issue of American Cinematographer we begin the one hundred and first year of the magazine, we rededicate ourselves to the soul of cinematography: the creation of image.

We celebrate with an image on the cover made by one of our own, Johnny Simmons, ASC. An image of wonder and curiosity of a single moment. Like all great images, it is both explicit and implicit at once.

At this moment, January 2021, remember that the story, and storytelling itself, began first as image-making with crude scratches on rock walls, and evolved to verbal stories often told around campfires. Our modern campfire is the movie theater. We are fearful that one of the casualties of 2020 — when so many of our leaders failed to respond — could be our movie theaters. We hope not. Much will change as a result of 2020. Some things will disappear, others will return modified by lessons learned during these past months: different, but better.

At this moment of our new-look magazine, we will try to talk less and give you more to look at; instead of many words, we have chosen the W. Eugene Smith picture “The Walk to Paradise Garden” to illustrate this column and our moment together. 

I will let Mr. Smith speak of his moment, while recovering from severe wounds as a combat photographer, when he took this picture:

“While I followed my children into the undergrowth and the group of taller trees — how they were delighted at every little discovery! — and observed them, I suddenly realized that at this moment, in spite of everything, in spite of all the wars and all I had gone through that day, I wanted to sing a sonnet to life and to the courage to go on living it…”.

The “Garden” picture became the closing image in the Family of Man exhibit at MoMA in 1955. It is an image of hope, emerging from darkness, from a photographer who had seen much darkness. His message, repeated so often in this current year: We are in this TOGETHER. As cinematographers, committed to learning, to teaching, to making images that do bring us together around the campfire, we should now sing a song to life, have the courage to face our changed world and make great images of the family of man in our time. 

Stephen Lighthill  President, ASC

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