Janusz Kaminski - Writer

Cinematographer. Nationality: Polish. Born: Ziembice, Poland, 27 June 1959; moved to U.S., 1981. Education: Columbia College, B.A., 1987; American Film Institute, Cinematography Fellow. Family: Married actress Holly Hunter, 1995. Career: Debut as cinematographer at AFI, Lisa , 1988; began association with Steven Spielberg when hired to work on Class of '61 , TV movie, 1990; earned international acclaim for work on Schindler's List , 1993; directorial debut, Lost Souls , 1999. Awards: Line Eagel Award, Illinois Film Festival, for Lisa , 1988; Academy Award for Best Cinematography, National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Cinematography, New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Cinematography, Los Angeles Film Critics Award for Best Cinematography, BAFTA Award (UK) for Best Cinematography, British Society of Cinematographers Award for Best Cinematography, and Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Cinematography, all for Schindler's List , 1993; Golden Satellite Award for Best Cinematography, for Amistad , 1997; Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Cinematography, Los Angeles Film Critics Award for Best Cinematography, and Florida Film Critics Circle Award for Best Cinematography, for Saving Private Ryan , 1998. Address: c/o American Society of Cinematographers, P.O. Box 2230, Hollywood, CA 90078, U.S.A.

Janusz Kaminski
Janusz Kaminski

Films as Cinematographer:


The Rain Killer (Stein); The Terror Within II (Stevens)


Pyrates (Stern); Cool As Ice (Kellogg); Wildflower (Keaton-for TV)


Trouble Bound (Reiner); Killer Instinct (Clark and Stein); Class of '61 (Hoblit—for TV)


Schindler's List (Spielberg); Adventures of Huck Finn (Sommers)


Tall Tale (Checkik); Little Giants (Dunham)


How to Make an American Quilt (Moorhouse)


Jerry Maguire (Crowe); Amistad (Spielberg)


The Lost World: Jurassic Park II (Spielberg)


Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg)


A. I. ; Memoirs of a Geisha

Other Films:


Watchers II (Notz) (second ph)


To Die Standing (Morneau) (second ph)


One False Move (Franklin) (second ph)


Armageddon (Bay) (second ph)


Lost Souls (d)


On KAMINSKI: articles—

"Schindler's List," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), January 1994.

"Chase, Crush and Devour," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), June 1997.

Probst, Christopher, "The Last Great War," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), August, 1998.

* * *

Janusz Kaminski became an international sensation for his work on Steven Spielberg's 1993 Nazi Holocaust tale, Schindler's List. The film earned Kaminski seven awards for Best Cinematography, including his first Academy Award. The two men met in 1990, after Spielberg saw Kaminski's work in Diane Keaton's television movie Wildflower and hired him to shoot Class of '61. Since that time, the successful collaboration between director Spielberg and cinematographer Kaminski has produced four major motion pictures, two highly honored.

A native of Poland, Kaminski moved to the United States in 1981 and began his education at Columbia College in Chicago, where he received his B.A. in film in 1987. His skills led him to Los Angeles, where he was granted a position as a Cinematography Fellow at the prestigious American Film Institute. From the beginning, Kaminski's cinematography was lauded. His debut work, Lisa (1988), won the Line Eagel Award at the Illinois Film Festival. A year later, his association with Spielberg began.

While not new to the role of director of photography (having shot seven films by 1993), the experience garnered on Class of '61 was obviously pivotal in Kaminski's career. The following year, the enormously successful Schindler's List was released. It was immediately acclaimed for its elegant black and white photography. Kaminski used a high speed film stock to create a look which was reminiscent of documentary work, thus enhancing the feeling of realness in the film. The cinematography in Schindler's List was intensely fine-grained, had great detail, and seemed archival rather than concocted.

He worked on five more films before he collaborated again with Spielberg in 1997's Amistad. This film, and the one that followed, Spielberg's The Lost World: Jurassic Park II , were less successful, both critically and at the box office. When Spielberg turned again to the World War II era as a setting, he brought Kaminski into the project. Saving Private Ryan (1998) explored the invasion of Normandy in a way that no film had done before. The two men studied original film shot by the Army Signal Corps as well as combat photographs from the era to develop an accurate depiction of the 1944 battle. Kaminski used several experimental techniques which are rarely seen in narrative film.

To re-create the essence of the battle and the style of filmmaking done in combat situations, Kaminski first located some old lenses from the era. He had Panavison remove the coatings on them to replicate the way light was transmitted in the 1940s. This weathering of the lenses made light bounce around inside the barrels, causing flares and automatically diffusing the light. The result was images that seemed foggy rather than the clear transmission we are used to today. A combination of coated Ultraspeeds and these deteriorated lenses was used in the film. This technique, coupled with an aggressive use of a variety of frame rates to create slow and fast motion, brought the gritty look of battle to the images photographed.

In addition to these experiments, Kaminski also made use of the camera's shutter to best capture the battle scenes. The crew frequently shot with the shutter set at 45 or 90 degrees to change the appearance of motion in the image. This meant that the explosions shot with a 45 degree shutter seemed hyper-realistic; individual grains of sand seem to fly at the lens and minute details are extremely apparent. Kaminski also employed an out-of sync shutter to create the strange effect of light streaks in the film in some scenes. The film earned Kaminski four major awards for best cinematography.

Kaminski is obviously a gifted artist with a great interest in using experimental techniques to create highly specialized concepts in his photography.

—Tammy Kinsey

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