The people of “Dune”: unpublished photos of Jack Davison during filming

He talks about it with pleasure and a certain nostalgia. Jack Davison photographed, in November 2022, the filming of Dune, Part II in the Wadi Rum desert, Jordan, where British director David Lean once filmed Lawrence of Arabia . The 34-year-old Briton still can’t believe he was able to set foot on a film set, especially in such a heavy production.

The film by Denis Villeneuve (currently in theaters) is the second part of the adaptation of the saga imagined, from the 1960s, by the American writer Frank Herbert and which has fascinated the Canadian director since childhood. The novelist described a feudal interstellar empire, where several siblings compete for control of a desert planet (named Dune), the only source of a precious spice, essential for space navigation.

Frank Herbert’s environmentalist story has never ceased to fascinate cinema, giving rise to David Lynch’s worst film ( Dune , 1984), while allowing George Lucas to draw from it the fundamentals of Star Wars . And, if Denis Villeneuve appears to be the only one to have been able to tame the abundant text reputed to be so complex to adapt, it is partly because he knew how to retain its juice, sharing the same fascination for the desert as his favorite author.

“Images escaping the commercial machinery”

Jack Davison first met Denis Villeneuve in early 2022, while he was photographing actress Zendaya for the American magazine W. Alongside Timothée Chalamet, she plays one of the main roles in Denis Villeneuve’s diptych, which he intends to transform into a trilogy. A bond was quickly forged between the photographer and the director. The author of First Contact (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017) may well be, along with Ridley Scott, a master of contemporary science fiction in cinema, but he is surprisingly accessible and attentive to his interlocutors. It was he who allowed the photographer to come to the Jordanian part of the shoot, which also took place in Abu Dhabi and, in the studio, in Budapest, Hungary. “People have forgotten what this job was,” notes Jack Davison.

Due to the growing control of Hollywood studios over their productions and the way films are shot in the digital age (in front of a blue background, the decor being added later to the graphic palette), photography on a set has lost its former prestige. This work, which documents the life of a set and can later be used to communicate the film, nevertheless allows us to display a true artistic perspective. “Without the help of Denis Villeneuve, the studio [Warner] would never have let me work,” assures Jack Davison. For me it was about producing images that escaped the commercial machinery. And then I told myself that, with this desert, there was a good chance to play. »

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