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Fortune favours the fearless

Cite Magazine

For Ashley Barron, her love affair with cinematography began in her teens. Born in Russia and raised in Ireland, she moved to Australia during her high school years, and after the discovery of photography and media in the school curriculum, her life took a creative turn.

“I was drawn to it,” says Barron. “But it was when I took over a whole music video project that I realised that perhaps this was what I wanted to do.”

“My whole family is a university family. We’re from Soviet Russia, so everything was always ‘go to university and get skills that way’,” she says. Education was a major focus in Soviet Russia and they fully subsidised education, emphasising the maths and sciences.

“University was the only way anyone in my family thought to pursue any kind of career,” Barron says. “And out of the universities that existed in the city, Curtin seemed to be the best for filmmaking.”

She entered Curtin’s Bachelor of Arts (Film and Television) planning to become a filmmaker, but left with a life-long passion for cinematography – all thanks to an encounter with a fellow student and a remarkable camera.

“At the end of second year I was getting advice from older students about what to do and how to approach my final year,” Barron recalls. “One of them said to me: ‘You should get a practical skill’.”

She was shown a 16-millimetre camera, and how to clean it and use it. “That was it,” Barron says. “I’ll never forget where I was at Curtin and who was showing me.”

“I think that is what you call fortune,” she adds.Luck is when something just happens, fortune is when something happens and you are able to utilise it. I was lucky to have the people around me that I did, but if I hadn’t asked, I would never have known. Sometimes you have to give yourself a little bit of credit that you took that step, especially when it could have been easy not to.”

From this stroke of fortune, Barron’s cinematography career has, literally, taken off. She has travelled around the world in pursuit of her art – from many a destination in the USA to Canada and Poland. Her hunger to learn and grow led her to Hollywood, when she became one of 28 people worldwide to be accepted into the American Film Institute Conservatory’s Master of Fine Arts program for cinematography.

Founded in 1967, the American Film Institute (AFI) is widely regarded as one of the world’s top film schools. Its mission is to preserve the heritage of the motion picture, to honour the artists and their work and to educate the next generation of storytellers.

“AFI in itself is a whole other world. All you do for two years is shoot or crew on other people’s films. It not only shapes you as a cinematographer, but also as a human being,” says Barron. “To this day I still think ‘did that actually happen?’”

Her AFI thesis film, Dreamland, was nominated for the Golden Tadpole Award at the 2012 Camerimage International Film Festival. Held annually in Poland, it is the world’s biggest cinematography festival.

“The best of the best go there,” she says. “And when you’ve put a lot of hard work into something, to be recognised for it is phenomenal.”

Barron working on a set.

Barron [second from the left] on the set of Dreamland.

Now with her first feature One Less God under her belt and a second in the works, Barron’s appetite for full-length films is on the rise.

“For me, it’s the story,” Barron says. “It’s about figuring out how to tell the story visually, how I can light it, and how I can bring something to it that the director hasn’t thought of.”

To her, cinematography is both a creative and technical art. With a family of scientists, practical aspects such as physics of light and the mathematics of lenses appeal to her technical side and upbringing, while artistic elements like framing and how light and movement create meaning allows her to let loose her creativity.

As for her favourite cinematography component, it’s lighting – hands down. “Getting an emotional response from people through light is my aim every time,” Barron says.

And she’s not put off by a challenge either. For Barron a challenge simply translates into ‘something new to learn’. This thirst for learning is something she attributes to Curtin. “Curtin taught me how to learn,” Barron says. “And starting at Curtin made me want to know more.”

Her advice?

Be fearless.

“Fear can hold you back; it can take over and you forget what you are there to do,” Barron says. “The most success I’ve had is when I’ve thrown caution to the wind and, with all respect of course, jumped into it.”

Learn the basics.

“Steven Spielberg actually gave me this advice,” Barron admits, and it’s something she’s taken to heart. “Learn the basics of what you do, because ultimately if you don’t know how the nuts and bolts of what you do work, then there’s no point.”

Study.

Barron’s ultimate goal is to become a master of cinematography, a “master of light”.

“To be a master of your craft is a power that not many people have,” she says. “I want to be able to envision something in my head, make it and let it touch people.”

It might seem like simple advice, but don’t knock it; it’s come all the way from Hollywood.

Graduate snapshot

Name: Ashley Barron

Course: Bachelor of Arts (Film and Television)

Graduated: 2008