Vale – Louis Irving ACS – Cinematographer 1950~2016

Lou Irving ACS – On set of Dr Blake Photo: Greg Noakes

The Australian film industry has lost an outstanding cinematographer with the death of Louis Irving on New Year’s Eve 2016.

Described by his colleagues as a talented gentleman, a quiet achiever and a painter with light, Lou Irving (his film set name) was 66 years old when he died of an aggressive brain tumour.

The actor, Craig McLachlan nicknamed him “the little master” because he was “truly a master of his craft… he was my DOP, my mentor and my dear, dear friend” wrote McLachlan to Lou’s widow Amanda Irving.

Louis Avery Irving was born on October 21 in 1950 in Rockhampton, Queensland to John (Jock) Irving, a bank teller and later a businessman and Jill nee Rudd, whose mother’s Avery family were pioneer settlers near Longreach. His parents met after the war when Jock Irving served as a naval officer during the Coral Sea battle and Jill was a Queensland university student in Brisbane. Louis their second son was named after his grandfather, Louis Charles Irving, a ship’s Commander in World War Two who also fought in the First World War.

Louis grew up in a noisy large home in Gordon St, Hampton in Melbourne, one of five Irving children in an affluent friendly neighbourhood by the sea. His interest in photography began as a teenager with a Kodak box brownie and a dark room in the laundry. He asked his father Jock to drive across town to buy a second hand super 8 camera.

Louis filmed his first reel on a misty morning at Brighton beach down the road from Gordon St and discovered the power of moving images. Thus began his lifelong commitment to the art of cinematography.

Educated at Hailebury school in Brighton, where his father, uncles and brothers also attended, Louis was a self-confessed poor student whose only enthusiasm was for drawing humorous cartoons in the school‘s annual magazine. It was his drawing ability that won him entry to the fledgling Swinburne College of Technology’s film school in the 1960’s, when the Australian film industry was in its renaissance. Though it was under-resourced, Swinburne’s first film school teachers, filmmakers like Brian Robinson and Nigel Buesst inspired Louis and his fellow students. Among them were his first serious girlfriend, the acclaimed film director Gillian Armstrong and the other accomplished directors Esben Storm and Don Featherstone.

Irving lasted a year at Swinburne when he applied to the burgeoning film studios of Hector and Dorothy Crawford in Collins St, Melbourne. As camera assistant to Vince Monton he worked on Matlock Police, Division 4 and another police show Bluey which was shot on colour film on location. This was his first experience of lighting camerawork and he loved it.

In an oral history interview for the National Film and Sound Archive in 2015 he said that shooting every day meant he was forced to learn on the job. He often put his hand up for work and then had to learn how to manage with new camera lenses and formats, film stocks and demanding American actors. Although he said at the end of his career he felt he should have taken even more creative risks, he rose to become one of Australia’s leading cinematographers.

President of the Australian Cinematographers’ Society, Ron Johanson OAM ACS wrote of his old friend, “While the chaos settled on set he would watch silently behind the viewfinder focused and unruffled as he waited for the real drama to unfold.”

Irving’s colleague, actor and producer/director Claudia Karvan worked with him on three series of the ground-breaking television drama series Love My Way for which he was nominated for an AFI award. Karvan loved working with him and praises him as charming and mischievous while not afraid to be subtle and gritty with the look of the show.

Vince Monton paid tribute to his great eye for composition and talent for story telling through the cinema lens as brilliant. In 1977 Irving came to Sydney with Monton to work as operator on the landmark feature Newsfront about the 1950’s newsreel cameramen, directed by Phillip Noyce. He settled in Sydney though his work took him to California, Britain, Europe and Thailand as well as all over Australia. Irving was Director of Photography on the 1989 feature Mushrooms, a black comedy for which he won a Gold Australian Cinematographers’ Society Award and was nominated for an AFI award for best achievement in cinematography.

He shot and lit some of Australia’s best television productions including 124 episodes of Water Rats, Packed to the Rafters, Foxtel’s Spirited and the popular Love My Way. His other credits include Heartland, Bastard Boys and two series of The Dr Blake Mysteries. He said that was the most pleasurable experience of his working career. Dr Blake a 1950’s period mystery drama was the ABC’s highest rating locally produced show filmed on location in Ballarat and in the studio in Melbourne. Louis had a great leading actor in Craig McLachlan, a fabulous supporting cast and a wonderful crew.

As a top camera operator in the 1970’s he worked on features such as Newsfront and Heatwave with director Phillip Noyce, The return of Captain Invincible , The Howling III, Communion all directed by Phillipe Mora, My Brilliant Career directed by Gillian Armstrong, Mad Max, Beyond Thunderdome directed by George Miller, Burke and Wills, and The Phantom.

In his forty year career he worked with top actors like Cate Blanchett, Judy Davis, Wendy Hughes, Nicole Kidman, Rebecca Gibney, Jessica Marais, Colin Friels, Bryan Brown, Bruce Spence, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Pate, Frank Thring, Bill Hunter, Chris Haywood, from Australia and from America, Jamie Lee Curtis, Stacy Keach, Alan Arkin and James Coburn and many highly regarded cinematographers, directors, producers and designers.

His work spanned documentaries, music videos, commercials, television drama and drama series, feature films and short films too. He won two AFI awards for cinematography first in 1981 for Desire and again for Greetings from Wollongong the next year.

In the two years after his diagnosis Irving took up teaching camera work at the AFTRS and months before he died he was inducted into the ACS Hall of Fame. In his acceptance speech in Adelaide he said he’d been lucky in his career and had been given a lot of opportunities.

At his funeral his children paid tribute to his storytelling, creativity and inspiring presence in their lives. His son Paul Irving said Louis had never lost his inner child and this contributed to his ability to love and nurture his grandchildren.

Louis Irving is survived by his wife of 30 years, Amanda Irving, the film and television costume supervisor, four children, Hanna Torsh, Paul, Halley and Josh Irving, mother Jill MacDonald, a brother Charles Irving and sisters Penelope Irving and Kim Gollan, grandchildren Charlotte Rowe, Sebastian Irving, Lena Torsh, Eloise and Cordelia Irving, George Torsh and Jayden Irving and many nieces, nephews and cousins.

Thanks to Bronwyn Murphy and Martha Ansara from the National Film and Sound Archive.

~ written in fond memory by Daniela Torsh