On Monday, Google rolled out a monochrome Doodle to celebrate James Wong Howe, one of the most revered early-era cinematographers, on what would have been his 118th birthday.
Howe’s first Hollywood job involved delivering films and cleaning up scraps left on the cutting room floor, according to Google. Before that, the Chinese-American had worked odd jobs, and even been a professional boxer in his teens.
Later, he would come to be lauded professionally as a pioneer in cinematography, from “accidentally discover[ing] how to use dark backdrops to create color nuances in black-and-white film” to “pioneer[ing] using wide-angle lenses, low key lighting, and color lighting.” He was also an early adopter of the crab dolly, a four-wheeled moving platform for cameras with a movable arm.
But Howe faced obstacles in his personal life due to his heritage. For example, he could only become a U.S. citizen following the Chinese Exclusion Act’s repeal, and laws barring interracial marriages meant that his marriage to novelist Sanora Babb wasn’t legally recognized until 1949.
Through his long career behind the camera, Howe received a total of ten Oscar nominations for best cinematography, winning twice in 1955 and 1963. He died aged 76 in 1976.