Brilliant photographer whose portraits were loved by international flick stars
Cornel Lucas, who has died aged 92, was the doyen of still photography in the British flick industry.
Although his pictures were not destined for cinema screens, his artistry and technique were much respected by his flick cameramen colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic.
During the 1940s, working at Denham Studios, in Buckinghamshire, Cornel became well known for his brilliant portraiture and as the master of a huge 12in x 10in plate camera, which gave a large negative area, capable of delivering unmatched image quality.
When international superstars came to work on British productions, they were invariably photographed by Cornel to create the publicity stills.
When the flick No Highway in the Sky was being made in 1948, a special session was arranged with Marlene Dietrich, resulting in a series of iconic photos.
The success of the Dietrich work led to Cornel receiving an offer from the Rank Organisation: they would set up a specially equipped studio for him at Pinewood, where he would photograph all the 50 or so artists then under contract to Rank.
Also to the studio came many veteran American stars and all the Rank starlets, David Niven and Gregory Peck, Diana Dors and Brigitte Bardot among them.
Cornel was born in Highbury, north London, and his interest in photography was first nurtured by his mother, who bought him a Kodak Box Brownie snapshot camera for his 11th birthday.
Since he was blessed with six sisters (as well as a brother), the availability of young models "in house" meant his ability as a portrait photographer soon become apparent.
With the one bathroom in their home doubling as a darkroom, the whole family watched in wonder as young Cornel's pictures developed.
His first job, at the age of 15, was as a trainee at a flick processing laboratory – it earned him a small salary and enabled him to study photography part-time at Westminster University.
At the start of the second world war, he joined the Royal Air Force and was soon posted to the RAF school of photography, in Farnborough, Hampshire.
Throughout his years in the RAF, Cornel was engaged in top secret aerial reconnaissance assignments.
Somehow, an opportunity occurred for him to ask the most famous portrait photographer of the time, Cecil Beaton, how a young serviceman might get into his business once the war was over.
The great man firmly advised him against it, with the simple words: "Too difficult, too much competition." In no way disheartened and certainly not dissuaded, Cornel secured a junior position at Denham Studios.
In 1959, building on his success in photographing flick stars, Cornel opened his own studio in Flood Street, Chelsea, where his work soon embraced wider aspects of photography, particularly high fashion advertising and television commercials.
I knew Cornel and his second wife, Susan, over many years, through my own long association with Bafta.
I therefore know of his remarkable achievements first-hand.
In 1998 he received a personal Bafta award for outstanding contribution to the British flick industry, a unique honour for a still photographer, reflecting his skills as a master technician, and as a brilliant photographic artist.
Cornel's work is held in the permanent collections of the National Portrait Gallery, London, and the National Media Museum, Bradford (which also has his magnificent 12 x 10 plate camera).
In addition, individual Lucas portraits in homes all over the world are hugely valued by the sitters concerned.
Cornel made it his business to ensure that the achievement of "techies", his colleagues behind the cameras, were seen to be equally worthy of recognition.
A portrait by Cornel Lucas was for the backroom people of the flick industry a lasting privilege (as I know very well myself).
Cornel's first marriage, to the actor Belinda Lee, ended in divorce.
In 1960, he married Susan Travers, also an actor, who survives him, along with their three sons, Jonathan, Frederick and Linus, and daughter, Charlotte.
• Cornel Lucas, photographer, born 12 September 1920; died 8 November 2012
PhotographySecond world warLondonBaftasSydney Samuelsonguardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies.
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