Director of photography Declan Quinn explores social ambition in 19th-century England for Vanity Fair.
Written in 1847 and 1848 and published serially, William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair depicts the foibles of British society as its members scratch, claw, buy and marry their way up the social ladder. Teeming with characters, the book throws its spotlight on the most ambitious, Becky Sharp. The daughter of an impoverished painter and a French chorus girl, Becky uses her wits, singing skills and physical charms to wheedle her way into ever-higher social spheres. Thackeray charts her rise from charity case at a girls’ school, to governess, to wife of a dashing heir, to paramour of a powerful marquis, Lord Steyne. “She’s not just a social climber, she’s a mountaineer,” observes one woman, none too kindly.
The motion-picture adaptation of Vanity Fair, which stars Reese Witherspoon as Rebecca Sharp and Gabriel Byrne as Lord Steyne, is cinematographer Declan Quinn’s fifth collaboration with director Mira Nair. (Their previous projects were Kama Sutra, Monsoon Wedding, Hysterical Blindness and the “India” segment in 11'09"01 - September 11.)
Born in Chicago to Irish immigrants, Quinn was schooled in Ireland during his teens, and returned there to work after earning a film degree from Columbia College in Chicago. Through Dublin’s Windmill Lane Recording Studios, he hooked up with U2 early in his career and shot several of their music videos and documentaries. Since returning to the U.S. in 1989, Quinn has photographed a range of features, including Vanya on 42nd Street, Leaving Las Vegas (see AC Feb. ’96) and In America (Points East, AC Dec. ’03).
Quinn’s bicultural background is one thing he and Nair have in common. Born in India, Nair was educated at Harvard University and maintains homes in New York and New Delhi. “We both live in two cultures,” says Quinn, “and our aesthetic is similar in that we’re able to look at things from two sides.” [...]
Published in the September 2004 issue of American Cinematographer.