- 1930 - 2013 (Creation)
Level of description
Extent and medium
Name of creator
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.
Immediate source of acquisition or transfer
Content and structure area
Scope and content
Appraisal, destruction and scheduling
System of arrangement
Conditions of access and use area
Conditions governing access
Preservation concerns may limit access, consult archivist.
Conditions governing reproduction
Media Commons does not own copyright of collection materials. Consult rights holder for reproduction(s).
Language of material
Script of material
Language and script notes
Physical characteristics and technical requirements
Contact archivist for further finding aid information.
Allied materials area
Existence and location of originals
Existence and location of copies
Related units of description
Subject access points
Place access points
Name access points
Genre access points
University of Toronto Media Commons
Rules and/or conventions used