Language of the Image: Robbie Ryan

January 5, 2020 posted by


Director of Photography, Robbie Ryan has been
shooting since he was 14. He’s now 48. That’s 34 years behind the camera! But don’t worry we’ve broken down his
prodigious career into 3 fundamental chapters. Ryan himself says that, nowadays you can just
grab a cheap camera or your own mobile phone and shoot a film … so to find your own style,
all you have to do is watch the world through a camera, non-stop, day after day. There is no need to worry about light; the
world has enough light. Much of what you need to learn, you can learn
by practicing. This theory and practice of cinematography
is something we can find in much of Ryan’s work. And it’s especially evident in his collaborations
with Andrea Arnold. But … we’ll talk about her later. In terms of style, Ryan prefers to adapt his
work to the style of the director he’s working with. The intimate style of Arnold’s films have
nothing to do with Ken Loach’s films. With Loach, Ryan uses long lenses that allow
him to shoot without disturbing the actors on set. And with someone like Yorgos Lanthimos, with
whom Ryan recently collaborated with in filming ‘The Favourite,’ Ryan changes things up
by employing a range of wide-angle lenses to help capture a cold, voyeuristic, and almost
anachronistic style to create a visual to match Lanthimos’ directing. Still today, Robbie Ryan prefers shooting
with film. While many emphasize that shooting in a digital
format makes using natural light easier, I’m sure Ryan would not totally agree. To make his point, Ryan asks his audiences
to look at the past, to see the work of a filmmaker that we all know, a filmmaker who
worked so well with natural light: the great, incomparable John Cassavetes. Fortunate for Ryan, in his career he has found
several fellow travelers who also prefer to shoot with film, like Ken Loach, with whom
Ryan has collaborated on three films. All three, of course, shot in 35mm: ‘The
angel’s share’, ‘Jimmy’s hall’ and ‘I, Daniel Blake’, winner of the Palme
d’Or. Andrea Arnold’s and Robbie Ryan’s impact
on one another is so great that Arnold deserves a separate chapter in this video-essay. Ryan met Arnold when she was still shooting
short films, and, together, they made ‘Wasp’ (which, at 26 minutes won the 2005 Academy
Award for Best Live Action Short Film), before combining on Arnold’s breakthrough, Red
Road. Together, they developed a wholly unique visual
style. Ryan himself has explained that on the set
of Arnold’s films, the camera stays in close to the characters, moving between them. It is as if the camera is just another character,
advancing in the same way they do. This visual style puts focus on people. That’s one reason why Arnold and Ryan have
shot many of their films in a 4:3 aspect ratio. The narrower width of the image prevents the
viewer’s gaze from wandering; instead, the viewer stays focused on what is fundamental:
the people, the faces, the hands… These same details, which work organically
in films like Fish tank and American honey, feel risky and groundbreaking in Wuthering
Heights. But the result is fantastic, and Ryan’s
and Arnold’s intimate aesthetic enhances the emotions of the characters, endowing the
film with a beautiful, nervous, and vibrant visual style. Look at this shot: they did multiple takes
until her hair stuck to the lens of Ryan’s camera, just like they wanted it. As a viewer, Ryan is placing you right there,
embracing Cathy. For any film lover, it’s good to know that
not only Andrea Arnold, but also other filmmakers, like Sally Potter, Ken Loach, and Yorgos Lanthimos
continue to call on Robbie Ryan to light and shoot their films.

14 Comments

14 Replies to “Language of the Image: Robbie Ryan”

  1. Muhammed Fahme says:

    Amazing channel man keep up the good work

  2. R T says:

    I wish you had mentioned the shot on 16mm I Am Not a Serial Killer, it's Ryan's best work behind his collaborations with Andrea Arnold.

  3. Luneland says:

    I love this channel! ❤

  4. Archis Achrekar says:

    you guys rock ! thank you for making this. There is not much out here about ryans work in video format

  5. Tianyang Li says:

    @Fandor – Love the break down, but i would dispute the claim his style is wholly unique… the follow-the-character style of camera work can be found in the films of (but not exclusive to) The Dardenne Brothers (Rosetta for example), Asghar Farhadi, Romanian New Wave Cinema..just to name a few.

  6. MrSquifler says:

    Film will always look better than digital. At least for me.

  7. Debapriyo Ghosh says:

    Fandor continues to surprise, and push the boundaries with every video they put out. One can learn so much about films, filmmaking, director's vision, etc. This kind of intimate, insightful, enlightening, and worldly-wise video essays is rare on other channels.

  8. ol says:

    Thanks so much.

  9. fuzzylumpkin49 says:

    Wonderful video.

  10. Lung says:

    Excellent video.

  11. juanpaolosawit says:

    Brilliant video essay about Robbie Ryan's cinematography, but what about his amazing collaboration with Noah Baumbach in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)? The film's visual aesthetic is uniquely different from Baumbach's previous films.

  12. KIESE MEDIA says:

    Excellent video.I liked seeing it.
    Stick with it please.subbed your channel.
    I would definitely be really thankful for it if you support me too please 🙏 🙂 ❤&✌

  13. Hakubi says:

    No love for the 16MM – I Am Not A Serial Killer? Shame.

  14. Pádraic1998 says:

    I hope The Meyerowitz Stories was not included only due to copyright issues.

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