Photography by Ross Giardina / Words by Sally Quade
Ross Giardina is a cinematographer. He shoots dark, brooding projects that speak without words and embrace you without arms. He is Sicilian by ancestry and Australian by birth. You will love his work. We had a chat with him on a Sydney rooftop just before he departed for his next project.
Still by Sally Quade
Tell me the first time you really thought about light?
RG: I lived in suburbia, in an 80s built rambling 2 story home. I had blue printed curtains with sheers behind them and there was a veranda outside my room. Also on the street, there was a sodium vapour lamp, the light used to spill into my room. I remember at a young age being aware of how that light made me feel at night. At night I used to get quite scared, and that little bit of light that would come in would give me something to stare at if I woke or couldn’t get to sleep. I could focus on something.
How important is compromise in a director / cinematographer relationship? Who is usually right?
RG: Oh I have to say the director! Ha. I think the whole process of filmmaking is a compromise. For me, it’s knowing where to draw the line.
I watched a whole bunch of Fellini films recently before I went to Italy to get me in the spirit. Do you think with your Italian background you have a deep obligation to always maintain artistry at it’s finest?
RG: Oh I am going to sound like an absolute wanker answering this. Ha. Here goes. Artistically, I think it’s about cultural and textural environments; how you see your surrounds, and what you let yourself see. All I’ve done is become more engaged in European art from a young age. I identified with it as my parents spoke Italian at home, and I drew myself to that—before any other culture, the European culture felt like home. I grew up not knowing what I wanted to do, other than I wanted to collaborate on a Fellini, or a Bertolucci type film, and it wasn’t because of anything—some of them were very simply exposed. Some were very elaborately lit. What remained with me was always the texture. Every image meant something. Even if it was flat, or ambient, or a day interior; diversity is exciting. I really enjoy it. As long as I can bring texture despite trends in our industry. Whether it’s a commercial or a drama, I really want to do it based on a character and story, and feel that all lighting and angels are warranted through that.
How do you think your studies informed your work today?
RG: It’s interesting, as I studied in Prague. What I noticed most is that it’s all about the process. The cinematographers that taught me showed us oil paintings for reference, not commercials. They often showed us photographs, not other films for reference. They taught us to reference the immediate art. The instant art, the older art forms. And I still do that today. I think one thing that defines my work is the Chiaroscuro era, I love trying to find the light in the darkness.
If you had to pick a favourite film duo, would you choose Ingmar Bergman and Sven Nykvist or Jean Luc Godard and Raoul Coutard?
RG: Did you really have that question written down? Fuck. It’s a hard one but I’d have to go for Ingmar Bergman and Sven Nykvist.
Tell me a pearl of wisdom that has always stayed with you?
RG: Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. By my old man, Jonny Giardina.
RG: I have a shoot in Chicago coming up which will be really great and interesting. I just finished shooting 2nd unit on The Dressmaker, which was really exciting. I have a couple of features on the boil. I am going to be in Poland in November as have been shortlisted for a Camera Image award for a Flume music video. It’s a really big honour.