Sven Nykvist

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Sven Nykvist
Sven Nykvist on the cover of his book Vördnad för ljuset ("Reverence for the light"). 1997.
Sven Vilhem Nykvist

(1922-12-03)3 December 1922
Died20 September 2006(2006-09-20) (aged 83)
Spouse(s)Ulla Söderlind
(m. 1952⁠–⁠1968)

Ulrika Nykvist
ChildrenCarl-Gustaf Nykvist

Sven Vilhem Nykvist (Swedish pronunciation: [svɛn ˈvɪ̌lːhɛlm ˈnŷːkvɪst]; 3 December 1922 – 20 September 2006) was a Swedish cinematographer. He worked on over 120 films, but is known especially for his work with director Ingmar Bergman. He won Academy Awards for his work on two Bergman films, Cries and Whispers (1972) and Fanny and Alexander (1982), and the Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography for The Unbearable Lightness of Being. He is also known for his collaborations with Woody Allen for Crimes and Misdemeanors, Another Woman, New York Stories, and Celebrity.

His work is generally noted for its naturalism and simplicity. He is considered by many to be one of the greatest cinematographers of all time.[1] In 2003, Nykvist was judged one of history's ten most influential cinematographers in a survey conducted by the International Cinematographers Guild.[2]

Life and career[edit]

Nykvist was born in Moheda, Kronobergs län, Sweden. His parents were Lutheran missionaries who spent most of their lives in the Belgian Congo, so Nykvist was raised by relatives in Sweden and saw his parents rarely. His father was a keen amateur photographer of African wildlife, whose activities may have sparked Nykvist's interest in the visual arts.

A talented athlete in his youth, Nykvist's first cinematic effort was to film himself taking a high jump, to improve his jumping technique. After a year at the Municipal School for Photographers in Stockholm, he entered the Swedish film industry at the age of 19.

In 1941, he became an assistant cameraman at Sandrews studio, working on The Poor Millionaire. He moved to Italy in 1943 to work at Cinecittà Studios, returning to Sweden two years later. In 1945, aged 23, he became a full-fledged cinematographer, with his first solo credit on The Children from Frostmo Mountain.

He worked on many small Swedish films for the next few years, and spent some time with his parents in Africa filming wildlife, footage which was later released as a documentary entitled In the Footsteps of the Witch Doctor (also known as Under the Southern Cross).

Back in Sweden, he began to work with the director Ingmar Bergman on Sawdust and Tinsel (US: The Naked Night, 1953). He was one of three cinematographers to work on the film, the others being Gunnar Fischer and Hilding Bladh.

Sven Nykvist with director Ingmar Bergman during the production of Through a Glass Darkly, 1960

Nykvist would eventually become Bergman's regular cinematographer. He worked as sole cameraman on Bergman's Oscar-winning films The Virgin Spring (1959) and Through a Glass Darkly (1960). He revolutionised the way faces are shot in close-up with Bergman's psychologic drama Persona (1966).[3]

After working with other Swedish directors, including Alf Sjöberg on The Judge (1960) and Mai Zetterling on Loving Couples (1964), he then worked in the United States and elsewhere, on: Richard Fleischer's The Last Run (1971); Louis Malle's Black Moon (1975) and Pretty Baby (1978); Roman Polanski's The Tenant (1976); Jan Troell's Hurricane (1979); Bob Rafelson's version of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981); Norman Jewison's Agnes of God (1985); Woody Allen's Another Woman (1988), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) and Celebrity (1998); Richard Attenborough's Chaplin (1992); Nora Ephron's Sleepless in Seattle (1993); and Lasse Hallström's What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) and Something to Talk About (1995).

Nykvist won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for two of his films: Cries and Whispers (1972), and Fanny and Alexander (1982), both of which were Bergman films. Nykvist said that his favorite cinematography was Fanny and Alexander. [4] At the 9th Guldbagge Awards in 1973 he won the Special Achievement award for his work on Cries and Whispers.[5] He was also nominated for a Cinematography Oscar for The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), and in the category of Best Foreign Language Film for The Ox (1991), in which he directed Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann.

Nykvist won a special prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his work on The Sacrifice (1986), the last film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, who by then was in exile from his native Russia. He was the first European cinematographer to join the American Society of Cinematographers, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the ASC in 1996.[6]

His ex-wife, Ulrika, died in 1982. Nykvist's career was brought to an abrupt end in 1998 when he was diagnosed with aphasia; he died in 2006, aged 83. He wrote three books, including Curtain Call published in 1999.

His son Carl-Gustaf Nykvist directed a 1999 documentary about him, Light Keeps Me Company.

Selected filmography[edit]

Year Title Director Notes
1953 Sawdust and Tinsel Ingmar Bergman
1959 The Angel Who Pawned Her Harp Alan Bromly
1960 The Virgin Spring Ingmar Bergman
Stage Fright Kurt Hoffmann
1961 Through a Glass Darkly Ingmar Bergman
1963 Winter Light
The Silence
1966 Persona
1968 Shame
Hour of the Wolf
1969 The Passion of Anna
1971 The Touch
The Last Run Richard Fleischer
1972 Siddhartha Conrad Rooks
1973 Cries and Whispers Ingmar Bergman
Scenes from a Marriage
1974 The Dove Charles Jarrott
1975 Black Moon Louis Malle
The Magic Flute Ingmar Bergman
1976 The Tenant Roman Polanski
Face to Face Ingmar Bergman
1977 The Serpent's Egg
1978 Autumn Sonata
Pretty Baby Louis Malle
1979 Starting Over Alan J. Pakula
1980 Marmalade Revolution Erland Josephson
From the Life of the Marionettes Ingmar Bergman
1981 The Postman Always Rings Twice Bob Rafelson
1982 Fanny and Alexander Ingmar Bergman
1983 Star 80 Bob Fosse
1985 Agnes of God Norman Jewison
1986 The Sacrifice Andrei Tarkovsky
1988 Another Woman Woody Allen
The Unbearable Lightness of Being Philip Kaufman
1989 New York Stories Woody Allen segment: "Oedipus Wrecks"
Crimes and Misdemeanors
1990 Buster's Bedroom Rebecca Horn
1991 The Ox Sven Nykvist
1992 Chaplin Richard Attenborough
1993 Sleepless in Seattle Nora Ephron
What's Eating Gilbert Grape Lasse Hallström
1994 With Honors Alek Keshishian
1995 Something to Talk About Lasse Hallström
1998 Celebrity Woody Allen

Awards and nominations[edit]

Academy Awards[edit]

Year Title Category Result
1973 Cries and Whispers Best Cinematography Won
1982 Fanny and Alexander Won
1988 The Unbearable Lightness of Being Nominated

BAFTA Awards[edit]

Year Title Category Result
1973 Cries and Whispers Best Cinematography Nominated
1982 Fanny and Alexander Won

National Society of Film Critics[edit]

Year Title Category Result
1966 Persona Best Cinematography Nominated
1968 Shame Nominated
1973 Cries and Whispers Won
1988 The Unbearable Lightness of Being Nominated

British Society of Cinematographers[edit]

Year Title Category Result
1984 Fanny and Alexander Best Cinematography Won
1988 The Unbearable Lightness of Being Nominated
1992 Chaplin Nominated

New York Film Critics Circle[edit]

Year Title Category Result
1984 Fanny and Alexander Best Cinematography Nominated
1988 The Unbearable Lightness of Being Nominated

Los Angeles Film Critics Association[edit]

Year Title Category Result
1984 Fanny and Alexander Best Cinematography Won
1988 The Unbearable Lightness of Being Nominated

American Society of Cinematographers[edit]

Year Title Category Result
1988 The Unbearable Lightness of Being Best Cinematography Nominated
1996 N/A Lifetime Achievement Award Won

Other Awards[edit]

Year Title Award Category Result
1986 The Sacrifice Cannes Film Festival Best Artistic Contribution Won
1988 The Unbearable Lightness of Being Independent Spirit Award Best Cinematography Won


The Sven Nykvist Cinematography Award is awarded annually at the Gothenburg Film Festival, presented in collaboration with the Sven Nykvist Cinematography Foundation.[7]


  1. ^ Cinematographer Nykvist dies, 83, BBC News
  2. ^ "Top 10 Most Influential Cinematographers Voted on by Camera Guild," October 16, 2003. Retrieved January 28, 2011.
  3. ^ Borden, D.M., 1977. Bergman’s style and the facial icon. Quarterly Review of Film Studies 2, 42–55.
  4. ^ "Sven Nykvist Ingmar Bergman Cinematographer Veery Interview 1991". V E E R Y J O U R N A L. Retrieved 2019-08-23. Interview with poet/artist Steven Vita.
  5. ^ "Viskningar och rop (1973)". Swedish Film Institute. 2 March 2014.
  6. ^ Some years later Nykvist told in a Swedish television interview about joining the ASC. At first he was surprised over having to qualify for the entrance, but showed up for his interview. One of the first questions to him was, how many full-length films he had shot. He said "seventy", to which the board said, that they understood that there was a language problem; obviously Nykvist had meant "seventeen". No, seventy, seven-oh. Hrm-hrm. Than the board said "It says here, you've been doing some films with Bergman." "Yes, that's seventeen," Nykvist answered...
  7. ^ "Here are the winners at Göteborg Film Festival 2022!". Göteborg Film Festival. 5 February 2022. Retrieved 1 May 2022.

External links[edit]