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Fritz Spiess is best known for his work as a cinematographer and television commercial director. Born into a family of photographers in Germany in 1925, Spiess received his own box camera at the age of 6. He apprenticed for his father, Karl, prior to WWII and later studied with renowned photographer Tita Binz in Heidelberg. After earning a Master’s in Photography from the Munich Photo School in 1949, Spiess ran his own studio specializing in portrait and industrial photography. He and his wife, Gunild, emigrated to Canada in 1951, and went on to have two daughters and one son.
The family settled in Toronto, and Spiess began working for Panda Photography. His photos appeared in such major publications as Life and Mayfair, but in 1956 he was given an opportunity to shoot a film about children with cerebral palsy; his work garnered positive attention, and he was offered a job as a cameraman. During his long career, Spiess worked with five production companies: S.W. Caldwell Ltd. (1954 – 1958); Robert Lawrence Productions Ltd. (1958 – 1967); TDF Film Productions Ltd. (1967 – 1976), Schulz Productions (1976 to 1987) and Rawi-Sherman Films Inc. (1987 – 1991).
Spiess recognized the need for an organization to promote and foster Canadian cinematographers and their craft, and he became a charter member and early President of the Canadian Society of Cinematographers (CSC), providing its membership with technical information and professional expertise. Over his career, Spiess was instrumental in assisting younger people in the business through his affiliations with the CSC, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 644, and the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE). Spiess also taught courses and gave lectures at Ryerson Polytechnic University and Sheridan College.
Spiess shot over 3,000 commercials for more than 300 advertisers, and he earned a number of national and international awards. The Canadian commercial film industry recognized his achievements with the Fritz Spiess Award in 1979, and Spiess was the only cinematographer to receive all three of the CSC’s non-competitive awards (the Fuji award, the Kodak New Century award, and the Bill Hilson award). He also won international awards at Cannes and Venice. Spiess’ artistry and generosity earned him the nickname “the dean of Canadian cinematography”.
Fritz Spiess died in Toronto in 1998.
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Steven Bulger Gallery—Estate of Fritz Spiess Portfolio http://www.bulgergallery.com/dynamic/fr_artist_cv.asp?ArtistID=109
Dillon, Mark. “Celebrating the art of Fritz Spiess.” Playback (December 17, 1999). http://playbackonline.ca/1999/12/17/27584-19991217/
Staff. “Fritz Spiess: Canada’s ‘dean of cinematography’ remembered.” Playback (March 23, 1998). http://playbackonline.ca/1998/03/23/21045-19980323/
Thorvaldson, Patricia. “Commercials as fine art.” Cinema Canada (Summer 1977): 50-53.
Withrow, Pat. “A giant with a camera.” Creativity (March 1977): 7, 25.
Chamberlain, Art. “Cameraman Fritz Spiess, 73.” The Toronto Star, March 16 1998, B7.
The Fritz Spiess Archive website