On April 11, 2017, cinematographer Michael Ballhaus passed away at the age of 81. Through is career spanning almost 60 years, he helped to create some of the most memorable films from collaborators Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Mike Nichols, and most notably with Martin Scorsese. His work has created some of the most gorgeous and innovative films in cinema history, including the famous tracking shot in Goodfellas. He lives behind an impressive and expansive body of work that more than speaks for itself. He inspired many to copy his often gorgeous and cryptic style, and it's quite an impressive legacy to have.
Ballhaus was born in Berlin, Germany on August 5, 1935. He was the son of actors Lena Hutter and Oskar Ballhaus (whom appeared in the Fritz Lang classic M) and was briefly influenced to act through family friend Max Ophuls. This lead to a cameo in the 1955 film Lola Montes. It was there that he became inspired by cinematographer Christian Matras to pursue a career in the field. He began the profession himself in 1959 with the TV movie Alt-Heidelberg. He would eventually come to collaborate with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whom he would work with on 16 films starting in 1971 with Whity.
Ballhaus would later transition to the United States and began working on movies and later music videos. Among his early collaborations were John Sayles (Baby It's You) and Old Enough for Marisa Silver. In 1985, he did his first collaboration with Martin Scorsese on the film After Hours. This would lead to seven collaborations, including Goodfellas, The Age of Innocence, Gangs of New York, and Best Picture winner The Departed. From his entire career, he earned three Oscar nominations for Best Cinematography for the films Broadcast News, The Fabulous Baker Boys, and Gangs of New York. He never won, but continued to have an impact on the industry. He eventually suffered following his increasing issues with glaucoma.
He was married to Helga Ballhaus, whom he was married to from 1958 until her death in 2006. She appeared in several films, including some from Fassbinder. Their son Florian followed in his father's footsteps and became a cinematographer for such films as Flightplan and The Devil Wears Prada. He would go on to marry director Sherry Hormann in 2011, known for the film Desert Flower.Along with family, he leaves behind an bountiful amount of work that elevated cinema and made it more ambitious and beautiful. He helped to shape the visions of some of cinema's greatest talents, and in return lives on forever in the images he created. They're powerful, iconic, which is quite an impressive feat unto itself.