For cinematographer Edward Lachman, the decision to shoot Carol was a no-brainer. He had worked closely with director Todd Haynes for almost 14 years and was excited by the opportunity to shoot an adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel, especially if it was one not based in the world of crime. “As Todd later realized,” Lachman says,” “the crime (in Carol) was love. Her other books had used crime as a sublimation of homosexual desire in her characters.”
A frequent collaborator of Ulrich Seidl and Wim Wenders, Lachman leans, stylistically, toward the world of European cinema. “In independent or European cinema, they’re allowed to take more of a point of view with the photographic language to tell their stories,” he says. “How do we see these characters? Where do we see these characters?” However, while Lachman had referenced classics of European cinema for other films, including Haynes’ singular Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There, he didn’t reference any specific cinematic world for Carol. “Our approach was not to reference a 1950s high gloss film of artifice. For example, Far From Heaven is a Sirkian world, a manneristic world,” he says. “Carol is trying to reference a documentation of the world that these women could have lived in at that time.” They picked a slice of the 1950s that was between the more optimistic era of Eisenhower and the uncertain times leading up to the Cold War.
Haynes had in mind “a soiled, soft world,” according to Lachlan, who only could only capture this through film. Carol was shot in super 16 mm film, in which colors mixed in a way they don’t in digital and that creates a grainy image that 35 mm film cannot. In the research process, Lachman looked at early Ektochrome film, as well as the work of mid-century street photographers, including Helen Levitt, Esther Bubley, Ruth Orkin, and, most significantly, Vivian Maier.
Shooting on film inevitably came with its associated challenges, one of which was the reality that Lachman was only able to view film dailies once a week, something that would make all but the most expert craftsman more than a little nervous. “Unfortunately, what’s happening in the filmic world is that you’re getting less and less support,” Lachman says. “So yes, I had to go on my instincts of what I’ve always done with film, and yes, it was more difficult.” The cinematographer had challenges even in finding a support crew who knew how to work with film, as digital has become, for many, the only way to shoot a film.
In addition to his experience with film, Lachman brought to Carol his extensive experience in the documentary world, which effects his perspective on the whole process. “I always feel that no take is ever the same,” he says. “Of course there’s a certain stylization but I think the camera is following the performance, rather than leading the performance.”
Indeed, Lachman was enamored by the great talent of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, and the command they held over the frames they inhabited. “I really think that’s the difference between a so-called ‘movie actress’ and an ‘actor,’ is that actors know how to play with the frame.”
To see Lachman’s work in a short scene from Carol, click play below: