French cinematographer Henri Alekan, whose seven-decade-long, 130-film career included collaborations with directors Jean Cocteau, Rene Clement, Julien Duvivier, Marcel Carne, William Wyler, Abel Gance, Jules Dassin, Joseph Losey, and Wim Wenders, died June 15 at age 92. Often referred to as the Poet of Light, Alekan's most famous credits are probably Cocteau's 1946 Beauty and the Beast and Wenders' 1987 Wings of Desire, but his work encompassed a range of styles and genres, and even some lighting design outside the motion picture realm.
The Paris native's oft-told story was that his interest in film lighting began during a 1924 family vacation, when he saw a movie crew's arc lights blasting a seaside resort. In 1929, when he was 20, Alekan went to work in the still photo department of a Paris studio. Soon, he was working as an assistant cameraman, and went on to apprentice with legendary German DP Eugen Schufftan. His first feature credit as a director of photography was probably La Danseuse Rouge, in 1937.
During World War II, Alekan made clandestine films for the French Resistance. Directly after the war, the DP made a double mark with Beauty and the Beast and Clement's The Battle of the Rails, which were in very different styles: the former was a magical fairy tale with impressionistic lighting effects, while the latter was closer to the neo-realist school. Alekan's subsequent credits included Anna Karenina, Juliette ou la Clef des Songes, Roman Holiday, Topkapi, Mayerling, La Truite, for which he won a Cesar, and The State of Things. His work on Wings of Desire earned him plaudits from the New York and Los Angeles Film Critics' Associations. His final feature credit was Amos Gitai's Petrified Garden, in 1993.
In other realms, Alekan not only co-invented the Transflex front projection system and authored the textbook Lights and Shadows, he also designed a TV studio for the Elysee Palace, lit opera productions, and consulted on lighting for architectural and public-space projects in Montmartre and the Paris Metro.