Emerging from the hard-scrabble world of documentary filmmaking, Seamus McGarvey quickly developed into one of feature films' most talented, diverse and highly regarded directors of photography. Over the years, he earned the reputation of being able to turn the dourest locations into some of the most beautifully shot images in British cinema. Instead of imposing a look on a particular film, McGarvey sought to find the photographic heart of the story by setting the right visual mood and tone. The youngest member ever invited to join the British Society of Cinematographers, McGarvey became highly decorated early in his career before moving on to film major Hollywood features, including "Along Came Polly" (2004), "Word Trade Center" (2006) and "Atonement" (2007), for which he earned his first Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography. Later work included such visually divergent productions as "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" (HBO, 2008), "We Need to Talk About Kevin" (2011) and the superhero spectacular "The Avengers" (2012). Whether tasked with evoking the proper mood and air of authenticity for a British period drama or providing an appropriately vibrant color palette for a big-budget epic, McGarvey first uncovered the needs of the film before brilliantly delivering whatever aesthetic the work required.
Born on June 29, 1967 in Armagh, Northern Ireland, McGarvey developed a passion for photography when he began learning the technical aspects in a dark room at home when he was 13 years old. While attending Christian Brothers Grammar School, an art teacher, Declan Forde, let the lad borrow an 8mm camera with which to experiment, leading to his enrollment for three years at the City of London Polytechnic (now London Guildhall University) to study film. Immediately upon leaving school, McGarvey sought work as a clapper loader and camera assistant, landing occasional work while using his painting and decorating skills to make ends meet. In the early 1990s, he had assistant gigs on features like "December Bride" (1990) and "Dakota Road" (1991), while filming several shorts, including "Mad Bad Mortal Beings" (1991), "Damsel Jam (1992) and "Marooned" (1993).
One of his first gigs as a DP was on the psychological thriller "Look Me in the Eye" (1994). After winning an award at Cannes for his work on Michael Winterbottom's short film, "Floating," he shot "Butterfly Kiss" (1995) for the director, a dark road picture about two women; one a murderer (Amanda Plummer), the other (Saskia Reeves) impulsive and wild, but who naively thinks she can save her friend. Following a string of television documentaries and features like "Jude" (1996) and "The Slab Boys" (1997), McGarvey turned the cold, grey rocky beaches and relentlessly cloudy skies of Scotland beautiful and elegiac in Alan Rickman's "The Winter Guest" (1997). For "The War Zone" (1999), Tim Roth's stark coming-of-age tale about a young boy (Freddie Cunliffe) dealing with incest, McGarvey used England's famed gloom to great effect, creating a somber look that underscored the boy's tragic family life.
After filming "A Map of the World" (1999), starring Julianne Moore and Sigourney Weaver, he firmly established himself with his work on "High Fidelity" (2000), the American-made adaptation of novel Nick Hornby's novel, set originally in Britain, about a record store owner (John Cusack) who seeks out his last five girlfriends to find out what he did wrong in order to win back his current girlfriend (Iben Hjejle). Thanks to "High Fidelity," more American filmmakers sat up and began to take notice of McGarvey. He returned to England, however, to film the dour World War II espionage film, "Enigma" (2001), then shot Stephen Daldry's beautifully made period drama, "The Hours" (2002). McGarvey was tasked with masking Nicole Kidman's prosthetic nose, which she wore in her guise as suicidal author Virginia Woolf, a tricky prospect that he solved with low-key lighting and shooting her at the right angles.
Turning to more Hollywood fare, McGarvey worked on the Ben Stiller-Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy, "Along Came Polly" (2004), then shot his first big budget tent pole, "Sahara" (2005), an substandard adaptation of the Clive Cussler novel about a group of explorers searching the dangerous region of West Africa for missing treasure. He brought stunning detail and touching movement to Oliver Stone's somber tribute to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, "World Trade Center" (2006). Next came "Atonement" (2007), a heart-wrenching tale about two lovers (Keira Knightley and James McAvoy) torn apart by the false accusation of a 13-year-old girl (Saoirse Ronan). For the first half of the film, which takes place on a hot summer day in 1935, McGarvey evoked a soft tone sprinkled with the sudden harshness of sunlight. The second half, which depicts World War II raging throughout Europe, McGarvey overexposed many of the shots in order to bring out the stark horrors of war. McGarvey earned his first Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography.
McGarvey imbued director Anthony Minghella's pilot episode of "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" (HBO, 2008-09) - based on the international best-selling comedic mystery series by author Alexander McCall Smith - with a lush vibrancy usually reserved for lavishly produced feature films. He then effectively juxtaposed the grit of Los Angeles' skid row district against the wood-paneled opulence of the concert hall for the Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx melodrama "The Soloist" (2009). Liverpool of the late-1950s was brilliantly evoked in the John Lennon biopic "Nowhere Boy" (2009) later that same year. Disconnectedness, despair and simmering malevolence were the order of the day for the low-key dramatic thriller "We Need to Talk About Kevin" (2011), starring Tilda Swinton as a grieving mother attempting to cope with the aftermath of her troubled son's (Ezra Miller) murderous rampage. The talented McGarvey next switched gears from intimate character study to a special effects-laden extravaganza for writer-director Joss Whedon's big budget adaptation of Marvel's premier superhero team "The Avengers" (2012). In another demonstration of his remarkable diversity, McGarvey quickly transitioned to shooting the lush, almost impressionistic adaptation of Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" (2012). Directed by Joe Wright and starring Keira Knightley as the aristocratic Russian heroine, McGarvey's latest project garnered the talented cinematographer an Oscar nomination.