In Motion & In Stills: An Interview with Alex van Leeuwen

Whether in motion or in still, Alex van Leeuwen one of the few that walks this fine line and captures stunning and inspiring pieces. Alex is a London-based cinematographer and photographer. Raised in Southeast England, Alex started his journey in film photography a bit unconventionally. Having only begun photography about 6–7 years ago, he hones his craft across the world in places such as India, Norway, Greece, and most recently Patagonia.

Alex’s cinematographic portfolio is composed of short films Endocrine and Into The Black. All the while tackling music videos with Oxford Alternative Orchestra and Center for Ballet and the Arts at NYU and commercials for Nottingham Forest Football Club.

His upcoming works involve a horror short called Behind the Screams set to be released in festivals in February, Deadfall scheduled for this coming summer, and a web series called Pillow Talk for UK distribution.

I had the wonderful opportunity to learn more about his honest perspective across mediums and his process as he treks the world.

How did you get into photography and when did you get hooked?

I actually came to photography after I came to film, which is I think the unexpected way around. I think most people would tend to start with photography and then go to film because it’s a lot easier.

When I was growing up as a teenager, I loved watching movies. Then it developed to “Oh, let’s see if I can create my own stuff”. The first camera I had was the original Black Magic Pocket which didn’t take stills. I could only do film because, while that was my interest, I literally also couldn’t do photography on that camera. I started making short films, shooting little adverts for people at uni and after a while I thought photography would be fun to do, seeing as I was getting more into the visual arts. So then I sold that black magic then bought a GH4 so I could do stills and video.

I came to photography really quite late whereas film, I’ve been going for years. I started film photography probably around 2016–2017 when it was thankfully a lot cheaper than it is now. Admittedly, I wasn’t going to professional places, I was going to snappy snaps to get stuff developed. It was just cheaper so I could experiment with it more, have a bit more fun with it. Ever since then, I have gotten more into it. I started with 35 mil, then a medium format camera, then upgraded my digital systems. I’ve always just been running multiple types of camera at once and then just figuring out what’s best for a trip, for a project, for whatever.

What was the project that you? Would you say you knew you could survive as a cinematographer or photographer? Is there a particular project that you have in mind?

I still grapple with that day by day, week by week haha.

I mean it was a bit of a flippant answer, but it is also kind of true of still grappling with that bit by bit. Where I’m at in my career, I would say I’m still on an upward trajectory. It’s not like I’ve capped out the size of the set yet.

Perhaps it could be a very small shoot where it’s something that I feel incredibly comfortable with. It could be that I suddenly have a huge cast, a huge crew, locations that I’ve never shot, and I feel a little bit out of my depth. I think it’s just the more that you do it, you build up a bank of situations and challenges that you know that you’ve gone through and you have this cookie jar of experiences that you can point to and be like, “Yeah, I was challenged, but I got through it or I still did good work despite XYZ.” And it’s taking that proof that you can do stuff with you forwards.

Yeah. I really like that. I find that when pros talk about passion, it’s not a passion that they suddenly found. It’s a craft that they developed overtime.

Yeah, that’s the thing. It does take time and especially with cinematography and film photography, shoot’s aren’t necessarily all that frequent which makes it quite tricky. It’s a slower process essentially. As you say, the word is passion, which is very correct. You care about what you’re doing, you’ve got real skin in the game.

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