NEW YORK: In love with light, Rodrigo Del Rio goes around the world scrutinizing shadows, colors, details that others do not see. Of elusive, shy character, Del Rio speaks, communicates, tells stories, through the lens of a camera, be it for still or film.
His passion for the image, which has always accompanied him, has led him to study cinema in Mexico and to specialize in cinematography in his country and in New York. His creative sensitivity and meticulousness have allowed him to build a space even in a world as competitive as the one of cinema, there are already many short films in which the director of photography bears his signature.
Speaking of the differences involved in working in Mexico or in New York, Del Rio explains:
– At the level of studies I can say that in Mexico they are focused essentially on the technique while in New York they are more concerned about the creative part. Its main objective is to tell stories. As far as field work is concerned, both Mexico City and New York are very large, cosmopolitan cities with lots of culture. Perhaps the biggest difference, between these two realities, outside the circuits of the great cinema, resides mainly in the budget that the directors manage. Mexican independent film productions, which I prefer and where I am developing professionally, work with very few funds while here the same projects have better resources. That allows everyone to have more time and serenity to develop a creative work.
Don’t you think that sometimes Latin Americans can solve problems that seem to have no solution for those who are accustomed to working with endless resources at their disposal? It is as if the need sharpens the creativity.
It is true. We are accustomed to solve, always, despite the difficulties. However, we make films that are interesting and worth seeing. Generally having to look for solutions compels to think with greater creativity and sometimes you manage to give a return that impresses more force to the argument. I remember, for example, that while working in Los Angeles, as a cinematographer in a short film, a comedy. One night we had to work in a very small location, in an unsafe neighborhood and the budget limitations did not allow for an additional shooting dates. In the story demanded development of seven characters that were in the same scene and time was short for such a dynamic scene. After much thought, I proposed to work with a continuous shot by transforming the camera into another character with a steadicam. It was an excellent solution, we managed to finish in the right times and the result was very compelling, better than we would have obtained if we had not had to look for a way around those budget problems.
Many are the differences of light between countries like Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and others located in Europe or United States. Your work, as director of photography, testifies to a very meticulous study of light. How do you deal with those differences?
I confess that I always, wherever I go, analyze the light. I love to travel and every time I get to another city I start to compare the styles of light between one place and another. Sometimes they are very subtle details but, with my experience, I manage to identify them. The position of the sun, the height, modify the color of light. In Mexico the sun rises a lot higher than in New York, and that impresses the shapes and the people with the hardest characteristics. The overhead light, in some countries of Central America gives another temperature to things, moves different feelings. The further you move away from the equator the lower the angle of light the athmosphere softens and everything assumes a particular warmth. It is difficult to express it in words, especially for those who, like me, are used to doing it with images.
Rodrigo Del Rio loves to lose himself in museums, analyze the work that great artists have always done with light, spend hours between walls full of works of art that speak of other people who gave life, personality, feelings, portraits and Landscapes through the light. For him it is very important to achieve a communion with the director and remember with particular pleasure the projects in which he has been able to spend time to analyze with them down to the smallest details.
I know you like to do pre-production meetings with the directors at the Museums.
Yes. I like talking to a director, about his project, as we walk through the halls of a Museum. The study of light, colors, highlights and shadows, composition and the separation between planes, have a long story. Much of my work is inspired by the work of great artists who have done extraordinary things with light. Analyzing your paintings, along with a director, during the pre-production stage is very enriching. Many times we walk talking about history, about life, and suddenly we find works of art that reflect exactly the light, the colors, the atmosphere that we want to give to a certain scene. Being there, in front of that piece, can analyze it with the director, stimulates the creativity and allows me to develop better the styles that are needed in each film.
Do you prefer to work at night or during the day?
I do not really have preferences. I have worked in movies that we film completely at night, others only during the day and others where the transition between day and night has a special symbolism. The lives of human beings change: by day we are on the street, we socialize, we work, there is greater contact with the outside world; The nights, on the other hand, were spent at home with the family. It is a more intimate and personal time. When you have to do a scene of day or night you have to know how to reflect those differences, it depends on what you want to communicate through the subtext.
Is there a director of photography that you particularly admire and who you consider an example for your work?
There are actually many. I like the work of Christopher Doyle and also the way of telling the stories that have Roger Deakins and Seamus McGarvey. I find the work of Emmanuel Lubezki excellent in matters of film creativity. He makes the camera the means to share an experience and that seems to me very admirable.
Would you like to direct a movie of yours?
The answer comes immediately.
No. At school I tried to direct some things but decided it was not my thing. What I am passionate about is to achieve a visual narrative with the lights, the colors, the camera movements, the choice of the lenses. I consider myself, first and foremost, a storyteller and I want to help the director tell his story through the images.
Are you developing any project in the field of still photography?
Yes, I really like to photograph. It is something very intimate, a personal space that I dedicate to what I like. I have developed a project while doing the Camino de Santiago. They are black and white photos, medium format, that reflect the landscape and transmit the emotions that I lived during the tour. Now I’m in the post-production stage looking for a gallery to help me optically print all the material.
Del Rio confesses to prefer landscapes to portraits.
I am very shy and perfectionist. I find it difficult to ask a stranger to pose for a photo for as long as I would need to achieve the effect I desire. I prefer landscapes because they allow me to wait for the moment in which the light gives the meaning that I seek. I can choose the angle I prefer, the one that hides and shows at the same time. And it gives me much joy to enjoy this natural phenomenon that gives us special moments that we try to reproduce with photography.
I’m working with Jesús Alarcón, a Mexican director who lives in New York, about a musical feature film we want to film. The story is very interesting, it revolves around issues of immigration and the contrast between the rural life of some Mexican towns and urban life in a city as complex as New York. They already have several songs written for the musical and we have been working for two years to prepare the filming.Another interesting project, that has me very excited, is a film that will be developed in India and whose dialogues will be in Hindu regional. It’s a psychological thriller and I think the director, Manoj Beeda, chose me as director of photography precisely because, because I do not know the language, he expects me to capture the emotions of the background, those that go beyond what is said on the screen.
As any good cinematographer, Rodrigo Del Rio, still without a camera, looks at the world as if behind a lens and never ceases to admire and be surprised to notice the many nuances of light. «I analyze the colors, the contrasts, the warmth of light at every moment of the day. It has become a constant exercise, a habit that always rewards me because one moment is never the same as another. «
Lost after this love full of shades and chiaroscuro, yielded to the flirtation of shadows and highlights, Del Rio enjoys to the last drop of good, light, which envelops us all with equal generosity and yet almost nobody can appreciate in all its splendor.
“Si usted no tiene libertad de pensamiento, la libertad de expresión no tiene ningún valor.” - José Luis Sampedro