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RIP: Cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky dies at 104

Wolfgang Suschitzky, photographer and Get Carter cameraman, dies aged 104

he photographer and cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky has died at the age of 104. As a photographer he was best known for his portraits of London life in the 1930s and 40s, especially the series of photographs he took along Charing Cross Road, the centre of London’s bookselling trade.

His death was confirmed by his daughter, Julia Donat.

As well as being a photographer, Suschitzky was also a prolific cinematographer, working on a bewilderingly varied array of titles, the best – and best known – of which was Get Carter. Working as director of photography on Mike Hodges’ Tyneside-set thriller, starring Michael Caine as a hitman returning home in search of vengeance, he shot a Newcastle that was grimy, poor and flattened spiritually, a far cry from party nights in the Bigg Market and Sir John Hall’s “Geordie nation”.

However, his work wasn’t dedicated solely to capturing the underside of humanity. Speaking to the Guardian in 2009, he nominated his portrait of Guy the Gorilla in London zoo, taken in 1958, as his best shot. Here, too, though he saw the dark side. “This marvellous ape, known as Guy the Gorilla, was living in a tiny cage,” he said. “People threw him sweets, but I don’t think he was happy – I don’t see how he could have been.”

Suschitzky had fled Vienna in 1935, having decided there was no future for him – as a socialist of Jewish background – in his home city. He had a brief interlude in the Netherlands, during which time he took photos for picture postcards for newsagents, before moving to London. However, it was his photos of London street life that secured his reputation as a photographer, capturing the city in its work and play. “My approach is to ‘find’ photographs – to observe things, not arrange them,” he said.

He moved into movies in the late 1930s, working as a cameraman for Paul Rotha Productions, part of the documentary movement, staying until 1944, when he helped found Britain’s first film cooperative, Documentary and Technicians’ Alliance.

He moved into feature films in the 1950s, teaming up with Rotha for No Resting Place, beginning a career in which features, documentaries, TV shows, shorts and trade work sat side by side. In his late 60s, he reached possibly his largest audience – as cinematographer on ITV’s 1981 adaptation of the Worzel Gummidge stories. “I certainly don’t claim to be an artist,” he said of his work. “I am content if I am considered a craftsman.”

He retired in 1987, but his work continued to be exhibited, and he was awarded Austria’s gold merit medal lifetime achievement award in 2007.