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Wolfgang Suschitzky obituary

Acclaimed documentary photographer Wolfgang Suschitzky died 7th October, 2016.

18 October 2016

BECTU was saddened to learn of the death of Wolf Suschitzky, a member of the union for more than 70 years, who has died aged 104.

Wolfgang (Wolf) Suschitzky BSC, documentary photographer and cinematographer, was born August 24th, 1912 in Vienna, Austria. His father, Wilhelm, and mother, Adele, (nee Baur), were secular Jews who owned a radical bookshop in Vienna. Wilhelm, a noted free-thinker, killed himself during the rise of Nazism. Wolf’s elder sister, Edith, was also a photographer and was a great influence on her brother. Wolf’s first love was zoology, but Edith persuaded him to pursue a career in photography so he studied at the Austrian State School for photography in Vienna. In 1934, he left Vienna for the Netherlands following the rise of Hitler. In Amsterdam, he met and married Helena (Puck) Voute with whom he opened a photography studio. His wife left him after a year and In 1935, he moved to London where his sister, now Edith Tudor-Hart, lived and became a cameraman for the documentary director, Paul Rotha, with whom he had a long collaboration. In 1939, Wolf married Ilona Donat with whom he had three children, Peter, Misha and Julia. Wolf was committed to photographing his adopted homeland and to helping others escape from his former one, including his two cousins who were in the Dachau concentration camp. They were eventually released only to be interned on the Isle of Man.

Through the1930s and 40s he documented life in London. In 1944, he founded the DATA film co-operative and in 1951, he worked with Paul Rotha on ‘No Resting Place’, one of the first British feature films to be shot entirely on location, and nominated for a 1952 BAFTA Award for Best Film. In 1953, he photographed Colin Lesslie’s comedy film, ‘The Oracle’ and Jack Clayton’s ‘The Bespoke Overcoat’ (1955) that won an Oscar for Best Short Subject Two Reeler. His first foray into television came via episodes of a ‘Charlie Chan’ series.

Through the next decade,he alternated quirky features, ads and a steady stream of non-fiction shorts (increasingly many in colour) directed by established but under-rated documentarists such as Peter de Normanville and Paul Dickson. He also worked with rising talent, Hugh Hudson, for whom he shot several corporate films and many commercials.

From the late 1960s he was in great demand as a feature DoP, but he never abandoned his non-fiction origins. He was still photographing industrial training films as late as 1980. His 1960s work included ‘The Small World of Sammy Lee’ (1963), Joseph Strick’s adaptation of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ (1967) ‘Ring of Bright Water’ (1969) and in to the 1970s with Joe Orton’s ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’ (1970) and arguably some of his finest work in 1971, when he worked on Mike Hodges’ film, ‘Get Carter shot on location in North East England.

Wolf joined the union in 1942 and was a staunch supporter through thick and thin. For a spell in the 1990s he was a member of the union’s journal committee, which existed at the time to provide a sounding board for the journal Editor. Successive editors loved Wolf’s gentle kindness and warm support. He was awarded honorary membership of the union in 1988. 

In 2012, he celebrated his 100th birthday on 24th August; on the 19th of July, at a special event at BFI South Bank in London, BAFTA, honoured Wolf with a Special Award for cinematography. Wolf’s place at the head of not just two, but three generations of cameramen includes son, Peter ASC/BSC, who, among many illustrious credits, is best known as David Cronenberg’s longtime DoP and grandson, Adam, who has done fine work in features, documentaries and television drama.

At the BAFTA Award in 2012, Wolf was described as ‘Suschitzky personifies the diversity both of the business and of the art of filling the screen ’.

Catch up with the interview with Wolf on the British Entertainment History Project website

Wolfgang Suschitzky died 7th October, 2016.

Derek Threadgall

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