Eva Sereny’s Through Her Lens
Eva Sereny got to work with François Truffaut just once—on 1973’s Day for Night— but the French director shared a piece of advice she’s never forgotten. “He told me, ‘If you’ve seen a good film, you must see it two or three times,’” says Sereny. “‘Only then can you pick up the nuances.’”
You could say the same of her photographs. Swiss-born and British-raised, Sereny was one of the only female set photographers in the ’70s, and she worked with virtually every major director, from Bernardo Bertolucci to Steven Spielberg. A new book, Through Her Lens (ACC Art Books), showcases her gift for humanizing glamour, and for capturing moments cinematic in their naturalism. Her portraits of women, like actors Jacqueline Bisset and Charlotte Rampling, have a fierce, intelligent sensuality, unusual at a time of mindless objectivity. Sereny—shy in person but fearless behind the camera—inhabited the edges of sets, “hiding behind people,” waiting for the pause in filmmaking. She was deeply influenced by Bertolucci and his director of photography, Vittorio Stararo, whose “lighting was incomparable.” And she marveled over Federico Fellini’s “capacity to ‘paint’ his ideas on the screen.”
She eventually directed her own film, 1984’s The
Dress, winning a BAFTA at 34. “I thought the world was at my feet,” she says. But gender limitations— never felt as a photographer—were crystallized by a top Hollywood agent. “Yours is an interesting story,” he told her, “but you’re a woman, and you’re not 20.”
Sereny’s last set job was for one of the Bourne movies; she won’t specify which—it was not a pleasant experience. The respect she had received, and the inspiration provided by masters like Fellini, were gone. The Italian director (“who had the worst language—unrepeatable!”) mapped out every aspect of a film beforehand, and populated his work with nonprofessionals he found on the street. “One poor guy, playing a sultan in Casanova, was so nervous he kept forgetting his lines,” says Sereny. “Fellini grew impatient, shouting, “For Christ’s sake, just say the Lord’s Prayer.’” The real lines were later dubbed in.
DOOM RAIDER Sereny worked on three Indiana Jones movies thanks to her friendship with producer Frank Marshall. “Steven’s sets were the most fun,” she says. This playful moment was taken on the set of 1984’s Indiana Jones andthe Temple of Doom: From left, Kate Capshaw, director Spielberg (who would marry Capshaw), Jones franchise creator George Lucas and star Harrison Ford.