Born in Mexico City in 1907, Gabriel Figueroa studied painting and photography before finding his way to film. After an early project as one of several camera operators for a 1932 Howard Hawks film, Figueroa won a scholarship to study with renowned American cinematographer Gregg Toland, whose revolutionary deep focus and lighting techniques would heavily influence Figueroa’s work.
While he inherited Toland’s techniques and the dramatic chiaroscuro effects of German Expressionism, Figueroa also adapted these aesthetics to the Mexican scene. By combining mysterious, high-contrast interiors with awe inspiring landscape compositions, Figueroa brought to the world a dramatically new and beautiful picture of rural Mexico.
Very early, the young Gabriel is devoted to photography, that would try to learn where you can. He studied painting and music, but the family situation forced him to work in a shop of photographs revealing foreign material.
In the early 1930s he managed to collaborate as stills in some films, which managed to learn the minimum resources looking at what practitioners of the time did. Their ability allowed him to obtain a scholarship,
in 1935, of the Mexican producer Clasa, which went to Hollywood to learn by Gregg Toland, one of the best cinematographers of American cinema.
In that year I was commissioned to photograph of a series of films with correction, but in which you can already see some expressive style, focused on the value of each plane.
The 1940s were the highlight of his career. At this time he met the director Emilio Fernández “El Indio”, who called him to take his own role in more than one dozen films, some of them key pieces in the history of Mexican cinema. Although his career was very prolific - photographed over fifty films this decade - the maturity of his style confirmed in a very careful planning in light, plastic, very pictorial beauty, well balanced, in which the leading role acquires it the shadow, glow, lost any corner point, a face, a smile, the overall result of the staging in which so much importance have some backlights as the clouds that adorn the bottom of the horizon. Just look at movies such as María Candelaria (1943), Flor Silvestre (1943), Bugambilia (1944), love (1946) or Río escondido (1947), to understand the greatness of his work, in which you can see aesthetic rigour and a great passion for light.
Rain of prizes that was getting in the most important festivals in the world, you are one of the most privileged places of Mexican cinema, where became the master of Cinematographers, and helped the Visuality of film acquired a leading role in the Mexican fine arts. His work gave value to everything that used to be purely anecdotal in Mexican cinema, looking back to a greater extent; and still more, improved the interpretation on the text which was to images. Perhaps, therefore, the most important contribution of Gabriel Figueroa has focused on that he was always the second director of the films signed by Emilio Fernández, Fernando de Fuentes, Julio Bracho, René Cardona, John Ford, John Huston, Norman Foster, Robert Florey and Luis Buñuel, among many others.
In the fifties and sixties highlighted its close collaboration with the Spanish Luis Buñuel, in Los olvidados, halma and Simon of the desert. His master work were also captured in a very interesting film by Carlos Velo, Pedro Páramo, adapted from the novel by Juan Rulfo.
He was an active trade unionist (promoted the creation of the Union of workers of the cinematographic production), but knew how to understand from their work the creative reality which lived in Mexico in the forties and fifties, soon becoming part of a large group of vitalistic and plastic (which were David A. Siqueiros, Xavier Villaurrutia, Alfonso Reyes, Rodolfo Halffter and Miguel Covarrubias.) It was one of the founders of the production company world Films, which was able to offer a new aesthetic dimension to the Mexican cinema. In the 1940s, he founded an Academy of film studies and the Academy of Sciences and cinematic arts of Mexico. He was nominated for the Oscar for his work on the night of the iguana, by John Huston, and four years later became a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Sciences and Arts.
He shot 235 movies over fifty years and became not only the leading cinematographer of Mexico’s Golden Age of Cinema but a world renowned craftsman as well, winning numerous cinematography awards and working for such canonical directors as Emilio Fernández, John Ford, John Huston, and Luis Buñuel.
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Dorothy Prats / [email protected]