James Wong Howe’s 118th Birthday – Today marks the 118th birthday of James Wong Howe (黃宗霑), Chinese American cinematographer who rose to fame for his innovative filming techniques despite racial adversity.
Born in Guangzhou, China, Howe immigrated to the U.S. when he was five years old and grew up in Washington state. He boxed professionally in his teens, worked odd jobs, then finally started in the industry by delivering films and picking up scraps from a studio’s cutting room floor.
Throughout his career, he used lighting, framing, and minimal camera movement to express emotion. He accidentally discovered how to use dark backdrops to create color nuances in black-and-white film. He pioneered using wide-angle lenses, low key lighting, and color lighting. Howe also made early use of the crab dolly, a camera dolly with four wheels and a movable arm supporting the camera.
In contrast to the success of his work life, Howe faced racial discrimination in his private life: he became a U.S. citizen only after the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act; due to anti-miscegenation laws, his marriage was not be legally recognized in the U.S. until 1948.
Despite the barriers he faced, Howe retired with two Oscar awards as one of the most celebrated cinematographers of his time. Happy Birthday, James Wong Howe!
You can find more about James Wong Howe’s 118th Birthday on the official Google Doodle Page