21.8.1913 – 16.8.1981
ROBERT KRASKER BSC
Krasker was born at Alexandria, Egypt, youngest of five children of Leon Krasker, a merchant from Romania, and his Austrian-born wife Matilde, née Rubel. Robert arrived in Perth with his family on 15 November and his birth was registered in Western Australia.
In 1930 he sailed for Europe to study art in Paris and optics and photography at Dresden, Germany. He worked with the cinematographer Philip Tannura at Paramount’s Joinville studios in France before moving permanently to London in 1932. Joining (Sir) Alexander Korda’s London Film Productions as a camera operator, he assisted the studio’s chief cameraman Georges Périnal, whose influence on Krasker’s subsequent development was crucial. He absorbed lessons in lighting, composition and camera placement, putting them to use in his best work in the 1940s and beyond.
Sometimes credited as Bob Krasker, he worked on such major productions as Rembrandt (1936) directed by Alexander Korda, Things to Come (1936) directed by William Cameron Menzies and The Thief of Bagdad (1940) directed by Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell and Tim Whelan all photographed by Georges Périnal BSC the last of which won Périnal an Oscar.
Krasker contracted malaria in the Sudan while a camera operator on The Four Feathers (1939) directed by Zoltan Korda and again photographed by Georges Périnal BSC and subsequently became diabetic. Promoted to associate-photographer, he worked on One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942) directed by Powell and Pressburger and photographed with Ronald Neame BSC. His first solo credit was for the wartime propaganda piece The Gentle Sex (1943), co-directed by Leslie Howard and Maurice Elvey. That work prompted Laurence Olivier to hire him to film, in Technicolor, Henry V (1944).
By this time considered to be among the front rank of cinematographers, he shot the iconic and celebrated Brief Encounter (1945) based on a stage sketch and scripted by Noël Coward and directed by David Lean. This film was as sensitive and small scale in black-and-white as Henry V had been epic and celebratory in colour: Krasker was equally accomplished in both genres. The association with Lean ended mortifyingly when the director fired him from Great Expectations (1946), claiming that his work was `too polite’ and that he wanted something `harder’.
With Odd Man Out (1947), the first of four films made with Carol Reed, Krasker began probably the most artistically rewarding partnership of his career. It reached its apogee with The Third Man (1949), scripted by Graham Greene, in which Krasker’s atmospheric use of unusual perspectives, wide-angle lenses and a tilted camera helped to win him in 1950 the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ award for black-andwhite cinematography. His style, eschewing glamour in favour of realism and employing high-contrast images and unconventional compositions, remains undated. It is particularly evident in the series of epic spectacle-films with which the final phase of his career is mostly identified. Robert Rossen’s magisterial Alexander the Great (1956), and a succession of large-scale films for the director Anthony Mann such as El Cid (1961) and The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), demonstrated Krasker’s art at its most confident and mature. He also photographed Senso (1954) for director Luchino Visconti.
Unhappy with cinematic trends of the late 1960s and struggling with health problems, Krasker virtually retired after shooting The Trap (1966) directed by Sidney Hayers. He had worked with some of the great directors of his time, including John Ford, Joseph Losey, William Wyler, Anthony Asquith, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, Luchino Visconti and (Sir) Peter Ustinov.
His career was briefly resurrected in the late 1970’s when commercials director, Hugh Hudson, was looking for an experienced black and white cameraman to shoot a beer commercial to look like photographs from Picture Post a wartime magazine.
Colleagues remember an unassuming, modest man, gregarious despite superficial shyness, and easy to work with. If unsure of a technicality, he was never too proud to consult his junior assistants. He attached so little importance to worldly fame that his Oscar statuette served as a doorstop in his Ealing house. A gifted linguist, he was fluent in French and had a good working knowledge of Spanish and Italian. He died of complications of diabetes on 16 August 1981 in London.
The Australian Dictionary of Biography/Edit Phil Méheux