Iconic Spotlight : Catch-22, by Eva Sereny

This was the first film I worked on. I was going to be a ‘special photographer’ on Mike Nichols’ film, Catch-22, which was shooting in Rome. A ‘special photographer’ are the ones that only come to the set and sends their work out via their agency – I was with Camera Press at the time – or directly to newspapers and magazines. The photos that would run would help publicise the film. It was a great first experience; Mike Nichols couldn’t have been nicer to me. Little did I know that I’d be a ‘special photographer’ on hundreds of films after this one. I started my career and I didn’t even realize it at the time. I just
wanted to work.

Catch-22 was the film adaptation of Joseph Heller’s anti-war novel. Screenwriter Buck Henry would establish a close collaboration with the director, Mike Nichols and the film would star Alan Arkin, a host of cameos including Orson Welles, Jon Voight, Bob Newhart, and the acting debut of singer Art Garfunkel. A box-office failure at release, the film was nominated for a BAFTA for its cinematography.

The publicist, Gordon Arnell, told me as I arrived that I would need to show Nichols my photos before releasing them to my agency, Camera Press. He went on to explain that Nichols didn’t know my work. Well, of course Mike Nichols wouldn’t know my work! There was no work for him to know! I only had a handful of pictures published before, but never from a filmset.

That weekend, I was in my darkroom developing and printing to all hours. On Monday morning, I went to the De Laurentiis studios where Nichols was shooting the last scenes of the film. I handed him the photos with apprehension. For a moment he didn’t say anything – then he smiled and nodded his head in approval.

He liked what I did so much, in fact, he invited me back to the set to continue to work. When the time came for the filming to continue in Los Angeles, I was initially asked to come along. They were going to bring me over to work with them in America. But as luck would have it, the work they needed done in Los Angeles was not right for me. It was beyond my technical ability and I had to turn the job down. However, it was because I didn’t go, did I receive the call to work in Calle, on the set of Death in Venice.

Extract taken from Eva Sereny’s “Through Her Lens”, available SIGNED from the Iconic Images Store.

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