November 05, 2009

Cinematographer Steven Poster returning to SIUC

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Whether behind a still camera or shooting on the set of a motion picture or television program, acclaimed cinematographer Steven Poster is a storyteller.

The director of photography for a wide variety of films, including the Emmy-nominated “Mrs. Harris,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Donnie Darko,” “Stuart Little 2,” “Daddy Day Care,” “Rocky V,” and “Next of Kin,” Poster sees similarities in both still photography and motion pictures.

Poster, a Chicago native who attended Southern Illinois University Carbondale for two years in the early 1960s, will share insights from his more than four decades of work when he visits campus for two days next week.

“I don’t see a real difference in terms of my art in what I do when I’m on a motion picture set or walking around with my still camera,” Poster said. “I am telling a story each time I take a picture or each time I photograph a scene in a movie.”

A 35-piece traveling exhibit of Poster’s photography through four decades will be at SIUC’s University Museum Nov. 10 through Dec. 18. Poster will attend a reception for the exhibit, “Steven Poster: Around the Edges,” from 4 to 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 13, at the museum.

On Saturday, Nov. 14, Poster will offer critiques with selected Department of Cinema & Photography students, followed by a master class “Seeing Light” lighting demonstration that begins at 2 p.m. in the Communications Building, room 1116. At 5:30 p.m., Poster will present a director’s cut of the 2001 acclaimed film, “Donnie Darko,” in Morris Library’s John C. Guyon Auditorium, followed by a question-and-answer session.

All events but the Saturday morning critique with cinema and photography students are open to the public.

“I like going around and meeting students who are interested in getting into the motion picture and television world and giving them a little dose of reality about what their prospects are and what it’s like, and taking a look at their work and giving them some critique on their work,” he said. “The excitement and enthusiasm available through people who are interested in getting into the industry energizes me. It gives me the feeling that I was back there again.”

Gary P. Kolb, dean of the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, said he’s excited that Poster is returning to campus.

“He’s had a very prestigious career and has a lot to offer our students,” Kolb said.

Poster is currently in New York for Friday’s premier of “The Box,” directed by Richard Kelly, and starring Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, and Frank Langella.

The exhibition is part of University Museum’s look at the “diversity and beauty of photographs” during the 2009-2010 academic year, said Dona R. Bachman, museum director. University Museum is showcasing a “Masters of Photography from the Museum’s Collection,” featuring six exhibitions through the year.

Poster’s “portraits of human life will fit in nicely as a counterpoint to the landscapes seen in much of the other photographic work this year,” Bachman said.

Poster said much of his exhibit’s work is with 35mm film. Most of the digitally enlarged prints measure 40x28, he said.

With still photography, each photo “evokes a personal narrative. Whoever sees them creates their own story for each one of them,” Poster said.

And while many cinematographers came from a still photography background, “a lot of them don’t retain the absolute love of it that I do,” he said.

Poster said that it’s not difficult to maintain a drive for his work. Besides films, his work includes numerous television pilots, including filming critically acclaimed television movies “Roswell,” “The Color of Justice,” “Courage,” and Madonna’s controversial and award-winning video, “Like a Prayer,” according to his biography.

Poster is president of the International Cinematographers Guild, which represents 6,000 trade union members comprised of camera workers and film publicists across the country. He is also a past president of the American Society of Cinematographers.

“I really enjoy the process of making movies and television programs,” he said. “It’s a unique manufacturing process where every time, we get out there and manufacture a product. Each one is a one-off; each one is unique in its story and creativity. It has that quality of military campaign and summer camp all rolled into one. It’s a complex set of problems that need solving on a daily basis.

“Each time is a unique situation. I particularly like the process of the kind of gestalt that is created when a unique group of people get together to accomplish a task,” he said.

Lilly Boruszkowski, an associate professor in cinema and photography, notes Poster’s extensive range of experience as director of photography on documentaries, commercial narrative features, and television movies, episodes and pilots.

“He’s a great resource for our students, particularly because he is an alum, so he sat in the seats they are sitting in,” she said. “He is a great role model for what SIUC students can accomplish.”

In his film career, Poster has moved from serious films to action films to comedy films and back to serious films, working with directors that include Ridley Scott, Mel Brooks, and Kelly. Poster said he is also very excited about “Cats and Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,” now in post-production, which will feature a combination of live action and animation in 3D.

As for a favorite film, Poster said, “you always love the one you are with.”

“I’m particularly in love with ‘The Box.’ It’s always an exciting time. You are presenting something new to the public. It’s like birthing a baby in a sense,” he said.

When it comes to still photography, “each one is like a child and an old friend,” he said.

“There is an instinctive quality when you take a picture that is good and telling a story. You know it and you never forget that moment of taking the picture,” he said.

Poster first fell in love with photography and film while in his early teens.

Except for a brief drive through Carbondale in the 1970s, this is the first time Poster will be on campus since leaving after his sophomore year.

He came to SIUC as a freshman in 1962 and stayed for two years. Poster transferred to the now Pasadena Art Center College of Design, where according to his biography, he learned how to “see light” and learned a true professional discipline. Poster later returned to Chicago and graduated from the Institute of Design of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

While at SIUC, Poster was involved in a special program conceived by legendary University research professor of design R. Buckminster Fuller. The unique program was “quite an exciting educational experience,” Poster said. The program “taught us how to learn,” by taking a group of high school underachievers and making them into scholars, he said.

Poster’s interest while growing up was in photography and theater, which didn’t fit into the norm of traditional educational systems in the 1950s and early 1960s, he said. Poster said through the program at SIUC he learned “an excitement for everything in life that only a man like Buckminster Fuller could exhibit.”

While at SIUC Poster “took advantage of every opportunity,” working at WSIU-TV, and also in theater, design and photography.

“It was a wonderful, exciting time,” he said.