James Laxton

Last updated
James Laxton
Alma mater Florida State University (BFA)
Years active2003–present

James Laxton is an American cinematographer best known for his collaborations with filmmaker Barry Jenkins, specifically his work on Jenkins' 2016 film Moonlight , for which he won an Independent Spirit Award and received his first Academy Award nomination. "A One-Camera Show: DP James Laxton on Moonlight". filmmakermagazine.com. [1]


Laxton started his career at Florida State University where he met his often collaborator, Barry Jenkins. The relationship built in college has led them to shoot countless films including the 2016 film Moonlight which was the recipient of multiple awards and nominations since the film's release. After graduating from University, Laxton began his work in the industry by assisting the camera department on features and shorts while also taking on other projects from Directors like David Nordstrom, David Parker, Cole Schreiber and many more. Throughout his childhood he joined his mother onset, this experience being key to his decision to join the camera department. The rhythm of set, how total chaos would ensue and then settle with a single action, only for the director to call cut and for the mania to continue. Moments like this were key in inspiring a young James Laxton to think of a career in the film industry as an option. [2]

Feature films


Arguably his most critically acclaimed film was Moonlight directed by Barry Jenkins. The film takes themes of sexuality and explores them in a harsher urban environment. The Cinematography of Moonlight took contemporary film-making and put a new lens on it. With a relatively low budget of 1.5 million dollars, [3] there weren't a lot of resources that were able to be spent on tings like underwater camera gear for example. [4] However, challenges like these made it possible for Jenkins and Laxton to think outside of the box on how they would be able to pull certain shots off. This ingenuity gives birth to the cinematic language of the film and it projects boldly with every scene.

If Beale Street Could Talk

After the commercial success of Moonlight, the next film for the two filmmakers would be a tragic love story between Tish Rivers played by KiKi Layne and a wood artist Alonzo 'Fonny' Hunt played by Stephan James as they meet begin to build a life together until Fonny is accused of a crime he didn't commit. From this point on, Tish is doing every that she can in order to set her love free. With the film being biased on a novel by James Baldwin, there are often times where the cinematography feels "novel-like" this to mean that you often lose yourself in any given scene and how intricately the characters traits and emotions intertwine with one another. "To find and fine-tune the precise visual grammar of Baldwin’s mastery Jenkins followed a process that served him so well with his previous Oscar-winner. One of the keys to “Moonlight” transcending the limitations of its $1.5 million budget – trading docu-realism for crafted visual poetry of the highest level". [5] The language that Jenkins and Laxton created for Moonlight creates a look well beyond the low budget and shed more light on the verite style cinematography.


2008 Medicine for Melancholy Barry Jenkins Nominated – Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography
2010 The Violent Kind The Butcher Brothers
The Myth of the American Sleepover David Robert Mitchell
Karma Adivi Sesh
2010The Last Buffalo HuntLee Anne Schmitt
Sawdust CityDavid Nordstrom
2012 California Solo Marshall Lewy
For a Good Time, Call... Jamie Travis
Leave Me Like You Found Me Adele Romanski
The Murder of Hi GoodLee Lynch
2013 Bad Milo Jacob Vaughan
The Moment Jane Weinstock
Dealin' with Idiots Jeff Garlin
Adult World Scott Coffey
Tradition Is a Temple:
The Modern Masters of New Orleans
Darren Hoffman
2014 Camp X-Ray Peter Sattler
Tusk Kevin Smith
2016 Yoga Hosers
Holidays Nicholas McCarthy Segment – "Easter", also with Bridger Nielson and Shaheen Seth
The Black JacketRyan Simon
Moonlight Barry Jenkins Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Cinematography
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Cinematography
San Francisco Film Critics Circle Award for Best Cinematography [6]
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Cinematography
Nominated – American Society of Cinematographers Award for Outstanding Cinematography
Nominated – Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Cinematography
Nominated – Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Cinematography
Nominated – San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Cinematography
Nominated – St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association Award for Best Cinematography
Nominated – Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Cinematography
YouthBrett Marty
2017AnythingTimothy McNeil
2018 If Beale Street Could Talk Barry JenkinsNominated – Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Cinematography
TBAUntitled The Lion King follow-upBarry Jenkins

Short films

2003My Josephine Barry Jenkins
Little Brown Boy
2005The Unseen Kind-Hearted Beast Amy Seimetz
2009A Young CoupleBarry Jenkins
2010Eggshells for Soil Megan Boone
2012RestCole Schreiber
Mission ChineseDavid Parker
Cole Schreiber
2013Fête des PetsNicholas Jasenovec
Sarah Silverman's Perfect Night Liam Lynch
2014Lemonade War Ramin Bahrani
2015Welcome to the Last BookstoreChad Howitt
2016Bernie Sanders Is the One for MeAndrew Deyoung


2011FuturestatesBarry Jenkins1 episode – Remigration
2013You and Your Fucking Coffee Henry Phillips 2 episodes
2014RubberheadDean Fleischer-CampTV Movie (segment – "Knickers")
2016Garfunkel and Oates:
Trying to Be Special
Jeremy Konner
Riki Lindhome
TV Movie

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  1. Pressberg, Matt. "Oscar Nominee Reactions: Meryl Streep Sends GIF, Jeff Bridges Says 'Woo Hoo!'". www.thewrap.com. The Wrap. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
  2. Friedman, Illya. "James Laxton, ASC on Best Picture winner Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk: working with Barry Jenkins and Kevin Smith, his early career and influences." The Cinematography Podcast, Hot Rod Cameras/Spotify, 01-08-2020, https://open.spotify.com/episode/4IM2SrtOAFpblygqBx6Kke.
  3. Moonlight , retrieved 2020-04-12
  4. "James Laxton, ASC on Best Picture winner Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk: working with Barry Jenkins and Kevin Smith, his early career and influences". Google Podcasts. The Cinematography Podcast. Retrieved 2020-04-12.
  5. O'Falt, Chris (2019-01-09). "If James Baldwin Made Films: How DP James Laxton Translated the Bold Imagery of 'Beale Street'". IndieWire. Retrieved 2020-04-12.
  6. "Huppert, 'Moonlight,' 'La La Land' Honored by NYFCC and LAFCA". Backstage.com. Retrieved 2017-01-27.