Camera Art

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Camera Art


a genre of cinematography that unites the creative efforts of the director, set designer, and cameraman in the planning and shooting of a motion picture or a television film.

The content and ideas of a work and its interpretation by the screenwriter and director are expressed in visual images. Film—an extraordinarily expressive visual medium—can be used to depict an object and its details, a phenomenon and its separate elements, gestures and facial mimicry, various types of motion, as well as the tempo and speed of motion, and optical magnifications. The scenes and episodes of a completed film represent a visual montage, a kind of vertical picture that unfolds on the screen. The duration of each sequence frame appearing on the screen is limited; therefore it is important to organize and direct the viewer’s attention and to create the “participation effect.” In order to solve this problem, moving cameras and variable-focal-length lenses (zoom lenses) are used, as are special techniques, including angle shots, lighting effects, and foreshortening.

Depending on the requirements for specific scenes and episodes, camera art makes use of other fine arts and artistic genres, including painting, graphics, landscape painting, and portraiture, as well as battle, genre, and historical painting. To a great extent, camera art determines the expressiveness of screen images. The paramount feature of the cameraman’s craftsmanship is the artistic lighting of the objects being filmed: the mise-en-scène, architectural forms, scenery, and interiors. Through the use of chiaroscuro to accentuate the expressive forms of figures and the actor’s gestures and facial mimicry, as well as through the use of lighting to define the time and place of action, the cameraman resolves the tonal and chromatic compositions of each scene and creates the mood for each episode.

Since the camera recreates the color and texture of materials and the three-dimensional form of figures in motion, various degrees of light are employed in both black-and-white and color films in order to reveal the three-dimensional quality of objects and to create the illusion of spatial depth.

The composition of the frame, a method of organizing cinematic material to permit the fullest possible expression of the film’s ideas and images, is an important aspect of camera art. Sequence frames, individually set up and shot, are coordinated in accordance with the development of the action and the imagery form: the movements of the objects being filmed and the filming apparatus, foreshortening, color, lighting, and color scheme.

The origin and development of camera art are closely connected with the development of film-making. The earliest films were nothing more than “living photographs.” Gradually, films of various genres demonstrated the wealth of possibilities and the importance of camera art. The outstanding Soviet films made in the 1920’s, such as Battleship Potemkin (cameraman E. K. Tisse) and Mother (cameraman A. D. Golovnia), made use of close-ups, foreshortening shots, and innovative lighting techniques to re-create vividly and dynamically scenes from the Revolution and to depict revolutionary figures. The Soviet school of camera art developed from the search for new means of portraying the events of revolutionary history and contemporary life.

In the 1930’s, in such films as Earth (cameraman D. P. Demutskii), Chapaev (cameraman A. I. Sigaev), the Maksim trilogy (cameraman A. N. Moskvin), and Lenin in October and Lenin in 1918 (cameraman B. I. Volchek), camera art attained a high artistic level in cinematic portraiture and in the depiction of battle scenes and episodes from daily life.

Since the mid-1950’s new cinematographic techniques, including wide-screen and wide-gauge cinematography, have been introduced, and the visual possibilities of camera art have been improved. Films using sophisticated and artistic camera techniques have been made. Among these films are Othello (cameraman E. N. Andrikanis), The Cranes Are Flying (S. P. Urusevskii), Ivan’s Childhood (V. I. Iusov), Daytime Stars and Tchaikovsky (M. M. Pilikhina), War and Peace (A. A. Petritskii), By the Lake (V. A. Rapoport), The White Bird With Black Mark (Iu. G. Il’enko), Liberation (I. M. Slabnevich), Daughter-in-law (Kh. K. Narliev), and The Taming of Fire (S. A. Vronskii).

The intensive search for new and improved expressive means has also characterized television films, which are principally concerned with revealing the inner world of the individual with maximum depth and conviction. The Soviet television films His Excellency’s Aide-de-camp (cameraman P. N. Terpsikhorov) and Seventeen Moments of Spring (cameraman P. V. Kataev) were particularly successful.

The wide audience appeal and the rapid growth of motion pictures and television, as well as the development of new themes and genres, have resulted in increased demands on the visual arts and in their essential subordination to the ideological content of a work. All aspects of camera art are acquiring great importance: the detailed portrayal of characters, the lighting and color, and the photographic and technical quality of the image. Socialist realism provides Soviet cameramen with the possibility of fully realizing their creative potential; it promotes the application of innovative techniques of film expression as the prerequisite for reproducing reality in vivid and convincing artistic images.

The development of camera art in the capitalist countries has suffered a great deal from commercialism, standardization of imagery form, exploitative motion-picture entrepreneurs, and the influence of antirealistic tendencies and Hollywood’s aesthetic norms in the choice of shots, composition of mise-en-scène, and lighting. However, the best representatives of camera art have endeavored to enrich and improve their skill, truthfully reflect life, and develop the progressive traditions of national visual art. A great contribution has been made to camera art at different stages in its development by cameramen of Germany, France, the USA, Italy, Mexico, and Japan. The masters of camera work have achieved significant success in Poland and other socialist countries.


Golovnia, A. D. Svet v iskusstve operatora. Moscow, 1945.
Golovnia, A. D. Masterstvo kinooperatora. Moscow, 1965.
Kosmatov, L. Operatorskoe masterstvo. Moscow, 1962.
Kosmatov, L. Svet v inter’ere. Moscow, 1973.
Il’in, R. N. Izobrazitel’nye resursy ekrana. Moscow, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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