Seamus McGarvey was born in 1967 and began his budding career as a teenage photographer by experimenting in the dark room set up in the bathroom of his family home in Armagh, Northern Ireland. His first foray into the moving pictures was the Super 8 camera his art teacher lent him. Upon graduating from the University of Westminster in London in 1988 he began shooting short films and documentaries and directed over 100 music videos for artists such as U2, The Rolling Stones, Sir Paul McCartney and Coldplay.
McGarvey often mentions the legendary American photographer Henry Cartier-Bresson as one of his main influences and it is easy to see why – his stills have incredible warmth of imagery in relation to their subject matter, similar to his idol’s. Another great influence on McGarvey were the Soviet and Polish state-sponsored art movies of 1950-1970 period, Kieslowski in particular. This influence is particularly detectable on The War Zone (T. Roth, 1999), Wit (M. Nichols, 2000), The Hours (S. Daldry, 2002) and World Trade Center (O. Stone, 2006), where he concentrates on exploring the faces of main characters with the pioneering moving focus techniques. McGarvey’s “face exploration” art reached its pinnacle in the multi-award nominated Atonement (J. Wright, 2007), which features the most wonderfully fluid character cinematography ever captured.
Atonement also features the famous sweeping five-minute Dunkirk beach scene which movingly captured the concept of wasted youth. According to all accounts, it was arguably the toughest portion of shooting. The shooting schedule dictated that the scene must be completed in two days, because the crew has limited time with the 1,000 extras. However, the location scouts report indicated the lighting quality at the beach was not good enough until the afternoon of the second day. This forced director Joe Wright to change his shooting strategy into shooting with one camera. On shooting, Steadicam operator Peter Robertson shot the scene by riding on a small tracking vehicle walking off to a bandstand after rounding a boat, moved to a ramp, stepped onto a rickshaw, finally dismounting and moving past the pier into a bar.
McGarvey returned to work with Joe Wright once again in 2012 on Anna Karenina, which received both Academy and BAFTA nominations for the best photography. Another two notable pictures were Sam Taylor-Wood’s Nowhere Boy and Lynne Ramsays’ We Need To Talk About Kevin – both notable for McGarvey’s signature style of attempting to communicate the internal process without dialogue whenever possible.
Currently, Seamus McGarvey is busy working on Sam Taylor-Wood’s film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey