Gabriel Figueroa, A Cinematographic Icon

By Jorge Ruiseñor

Regarded as one of the best cinematographers in Mexico’s film history, if not the greatest, Gabriel Figueroa demonstrated continuously supreme mastery of his craft and managed to raise to stardom even among Hollywood’s big names. He was an artisan, a painter who worked with light to create beautiful compositions that know no match. To this day, he is still crème de la crème.

Gabriel Figueroa was born in Mexico City in 1907. He was raised by his aunts after his mother died during childbirth and his father couldn’t cope with the grief. While studying painting at the San Carlos Academy he became interested in photography. This led him to work as still photographer in 1932 for the movie REVOLUCIÓN, directed by Miguel Contreras Torres. But his big break arrived when he was chosen for a scholarship to study under Gregg Toland at Universal Studios.

Back in Mexico, his first job as a cinematographer was for the movie ALLÁ EN EL RANCHO GRANDE by Fernando de Fuentes in 1936. The success was immediate. Soon, he was working for world famous directors such as Luis Buñuel, John Huston, John Ford and Emilio Fernández.

Gabriel Figueroa received many awards from the most prestigious festivals in the world: Venice, Cannes, Berlin. Those who worked with him had nothing but praise for his oeuvre, spectators were ravished by the images onscreen. Gabriel Figueroa died in 1997, aged 90, but his legacy lives on; he will always be remembered as a giant among the greats.

For those interested in the movies he worked on, we present a must watch list.

● LOS OLVIDADOS by Luis Buñuel (1950)
● THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA by John Huston (1964)
● THE FUGITIVE by John Ford (1947)
● LA PERLA by Emilio Fernández (1947)